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DCCC to Aid 22 Top Candidates

Democrats have identified the first batch of 22 House challengers and open-seat candidates for inclusion in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red-to-Blue program, which provides promising candidates with a prize package of campaign cash, communications support and a mentor from the ranks of current House Democrats.

The chosen candidates were revealed in a Wednesday memo from Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the DCCC’s chairman, to his Democratic colleagues.

“This is an exclusive program that rewards the candidates who and campaigns that are most skilled, not only at raising money on their own, but at getting their message across to the voters they hope to represent,” Emanuel explained in the memo.

In the 2004 cycle, two dozen Red-to-Blue candidates each took in about $250,000 in additional donations thanks to the program, but the DCCC promises that this year’s effort will be even bigger, with the program launching earlier in the cycle and many more candidates expected to participate.

“In ’04 we had three rollouts of eight candidates. This year, our first rollout alone has 22,” noted Sarah Feinberg, the communications director for the DCCC.

All of the candidates selected are engaged in top-tier or, in a few cases, second-tier races. They include Francine Busby, who is competing in a June runoff to succeed ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), and Tammy Duckworth, a favorite of the DCCC who survived unexpectedly stiff competition in winning a March primary in the race to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois. (See accompanying chart for complete list.)

The next wave of candidates will be announced in June, according to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who is co-chairing the Red to Blue program along with Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.). A third round is planned for later. Van Hollen noted that several candidates who are good bets to participate in the program now face primary opponents.

The candidates on the list Wednesday “are people who are meeting the goals that were set for them and who can use the extra support right now,” Van Hollen said.

As Red-to-Blue participants, the candidates’ names will be circulated to donors across the country. They also will each be paired with a Democratic Member of Congress for mentoring, a component of the Red-to-Blue program being overseen by Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.). (The DCCC is quick to note, however, that House candidates who aren’t selected for Red to Blue will also team up with mentors.)

Mentors, Schiff stressed, are chosen carefully. They essentially enter into contractual agreements, pledging to visit their protégé’s district, to help raise money and, not insignificantly, to give out their mobile phone number so they’re on-call whenever their candidate wants to talk.

“We want the mentors to really have a vested interest in the outcome of the race,” Schiff said. “We’re don’t want people who will only have a passing interest.”

Some of the Red-to-Blue challengers already have mentors from the DCCC’s candidate recruitment committee, which Van Hollen and Schultz have been chairing.

Schiff said he’s taking pains to match candidates with mentors who have faced similar races. For instance, a mentor who was elected in an open-seat race will likely be paired with a challenger in an open-seat race.

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