President Barack Obama on Tuesday picked U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, to be the next leader of the Democratic National Committee, underscoring Florida's ground-zero status in the 2012 campaign.
"During my tenure, there will be nothing more important to our party or to the American people than advancing President Obama's agenda and ensuring that he is elected to a second term so we can continue to move our country forward," she said.
Wasserman Schultz, 44, succeeds former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who announced Tuesday that he is running for the U.S. Senate. She will continue to serve in Congress, representing one of Florida's most liberal districts in parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Wasserman Schultz, an early Hillary Rodham Clinton supporter in 2008, is a passionate partisan who has proven effective both in raising money and communicating on television. A former legislative staffer in Tallahassee and leader in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, she brings to the DNC intricate knowledge of Florida politics and deep understanding of congressional districts across the country.
"The president didn't get just a great advocate and great cheerleader but also a great strategist who's going to be a very valuable member of the team,'' said Miami lawyer Kirk Wagar, a top Obama and DNC fundraiser.
Other top contenders for the job included Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
"In selecting Debbie to lead our party, President Obama noted her tenacity, her strength, her fighting spirit, and her ability to overcome adversity," Vice President Joe Biden said in an e-mail to DNC members.
Wasserman Schultz privately battled breast cancer while campaigning in 2008, going through a series of surgeries to have her breasts and ovaries removed. She emerged as one of the champions for early detection screening in Congress.
Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]