From such vigorous floor bonhomie, you’d think Crowley, 43, was fishing for support in his bid to become the vice-chair of the House Democratic Caucus, the party’s fourth-highest slot. He wasn’t. Crowley was whipping for votes in favor of the pending bankruptcy reform bill, a piece of business-friendly legislation destined for easy passage, despite the deep-seated opposition from a clear majority of the Democratic caucus. The bill, one of the most crucial to come to the floor so far this Congress, drew the ire of liberals by making it far harder for working families to claim bankruptcy protection from credit card companies. Why would Crowley, at the beginning of a potentially two-year-long leadership race, risk antagonizing so many of his colleagues by siding with business?

On the other side of the aisle, the answer is obvious: K Street. Working outside of his party leadership, Crowley had taken it upon himself to signal to the business community that Democrats could be serious about promoting a business agenda. Borrowing a page from the Republican playbook, he summoned a group of white shoe lobbyists to the Capitol and gave them marching orders to shore up support among wavering Democrats. [I told them] they need to express their concerns about the misinformation that’s being given to members, Crowley told me. The business lobbyists who worked the Democratic side could hardly contain their glee. Finally, someone on their side got it: K Streetwith all its PAC money and campaign expertisedoesn’t mind swinging both ways. Finally, a Democrat was not ashamed to do business’ bidding.

It’s a peculiar gambit. Some Democrats are trying to attract a bigger share of K Street’s attention despite having precious little of the only currency K Street recognizes: power. Even so, Washington’s moneymen are always eager to invest in the status quo, and they will probably offer just enough money to make Democrats in safe seats feel safer. But it’s hard to see what voters may like about this deal. For the moment, they seem to be warming to the Democrats’ depiction of Republicans in Congress as corrupt, thanks to Tom DeLay’s troubles. Whether or not Democrats vote Crowley into leadership promises to show which route Democrats think can best lead them back to power: running through K Street, or against it.