The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, facing a tough political environment and the prospect of defending dozens of competitive seats, will announce today the 13 candidates it has selected for the "Red to Blue" program that targets GOP-held districts.
The rollout is the latest signal that the DCCC is still trying to play offense in open seats and challenger races in competitive areas even though the party is expected to lose seats in November.
"These candidates have come out of the gate strong and the Red to Blue Program will give them the financial and structural edge to be even more competitive in November," DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in a statement. "These candidates are generating excitement back home and are making the case to voters that their commitment to creating jobs and standing up for the middle class is far better than turning back the clock to the failed Bush policies of the past."
The first round of candidates includes Ami Bera in California's 3rd district; Paula Brooks in Ohio's 12th district; John Callahan in Pennsylvania's 15th district; John Carney in Delaware's at-large district; Suzan DelBene in Washington's 8th district; Raj Goyle in Kansas' 4th district; Roy Herron in Tennessee's 8th district; Bryan Lentz in Pennsylvania's 7th district; Rob Miller in South Carolina's 2nd district; Steve Pougnet in California's 45th district; Dan Seals in Illinois' 10th district; Tom White in Nebraska's 2nd district; and Lori Edwards in Florida's 12th district.
Two of those candidates are running in districts held by Democrats: Tennessee's 8th and Pennsylvania's 7th, a pair of competitive open-seat races.
According to the committee, the candidates selected for the program this cycle must surpass "demanding fundraising goals" and demonstrate their political abilities before making the list. But now that these Democrats are in the program, the committee offers them financial, communication, grass-roots and strategic support.
The committee typically adds more candidates to the program as the cycle continues; however, the program likely will not be as big as in previous cycles because there are fewer feasible pickup opportunities for House Democrats after back-to-back wave elections in 2006 and 2008.
The program was so successful in previous cycles that the DCCC's counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, started its own ranking system of challenger and open-seat candidates this cycle.
By the end of the 2008 cycle, a DCCC official said the committee raised more than $26 million for the 63 candidates on the Red to Blue list — 27 of whom won their races. The DCCC boasted 56 Red to Blue candidates in the 2006 cycle and 27 candidates in the 2004 cycle.
According to former DCCC Executive Director Brian Wolff, who spearheaded the program from its conception in 2004 through 2008, Democrats might have reached their "high-water mark" when it comes to playing offense in so many districts. However, Wolff added, there is an advantage to trying to put Republican-held seats into play.
"I think in order to have a good defense, you still need to play offense," Wolff said. "I think you've still got to be able to put seats in play. I think Democrats have yet to see their best recruitment month."
Wolff said many of the seats on the list are predictable choices given that past candidates from those districts have made the Red to Blue list. In the cases of repeat districts such as Illinois' 10th and Washington's 8th, Wolff said the committee "made a down payment for the future in those seats."
"You're absolutely more on defense than you are on offense," Wolff said. "But I think some of the seats ... are seats that they've been softening up over the last couple of cycles, and they're seats that they shouldn't give up on."
DelBene is running against Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), a perennial target for Democrats since he first won in 2004. The 2008 Democratic nominee against Reichert was also on Red to Blue. Although the national mood does not appear to favor her party this cycle, DelBene said she views the political environment as being anti-incumbent, not anti-Democratic.
"I think right now people are feeling that it's an anti-incumbent year, and they want to see people who are addressing their most serious needs," DelBene said.
The highest reward reaped by most of the Red to Blue candidates typically comes in the form of fundraising. Mike Fraioli, a longtime Democratic fundraiser, said that while getting on Red to Blue isn't a silver bullet for campaigns, candidates in the program receive extra attention and resources from the committee — especially if they get in the program early in the cycle.
"That will include resources directly from the committee and the committee using its powers of persuasion for its contributors, both [political action committees] and individual donors, to give to these candidates," Fraioli said.
Furthermore, getting on the program has become a prerequisite for candidates looking to make their races competitive and raise money. "When you're not on Red to Blue, it's always a conversation," Fraioli said. "People want to know if you're on Red to Blue."
DelBene, for example, sent a fundraising e-mail Tuesday afternoon asking supporters to help her with a last-minute fundraising push to get her on the Red to Blue list.
The DCCC also announced earlier this week that Reps. Bruce Braley (Iowa), Donna Edwards (Md.), Patrick Murphy (Pa.) and Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) will serve as Red to Blue co-chairmen.
Greg Giroux contributed to this report.