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New Democrat Coalition Seeks Influence

In an Effort to Increase Its Membership and Power, Group Makes Endorsing Candidates a Priority

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Joe Crowley, chairman of the New Democrat Coalition and finance chairman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he is excited about the recruitment of moderate, pro-business candidates who fit with the New Democrats’ values.

The New Democrat Coalition is preparing to fire up its political arm this year in an attempt to widen its ranks and become the go-to group for moderates next year.

With a litany of retirements from the Blue Dog Coalition, the New Democrats see an opening to flex their muscles in the next Congress and grow their ranks after losing several Members in the 2010 elections.

“I do think it’s poised to be more influential than ever in part because we’ve seen serious decimation of the Blue Bog membership, and that creates some openings for the New Dems to partner with more like-minded Members and have their voice strengthened in the next Congress,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.), a New Democrat who was also backed by its political action committee when he first ran in 2008.

The PAC, which raised more than $1 million last year, is endorsing Ami Bera in California, Brad Schneider in Illinois, Rob Garagiola in Maryland, Denny Heck in Washington, Paul Hirschbiel in Virginia, Christie Vilsack in Iowa and Jamie Wall in Wisconsin as well as former Reps. Bill Foster (Ill.) and Dan Maffei (N.Y.). Each of those candidates will receive $10,000 from the PAC and gain exposure to a broad swath of downtown supporters, who are also asked to write checks and host fundraisers for the chosen candidates.

The New Democrats’ PAC, led by Rep. Jason Altmire (Pa.), was first launched in 2005, and the Keystone program that harvests K Street support was later developed to connect candidates with fundraisers and political consultants. Aides remember the PAC as a sleepy operation in its early years, known simply for cutting checks. And rather than supporting potential new members during the 2010 cycle, the PAC spent the bulk of its $1.9 million war chest on protecting incumbents.

The coalition still has several endangered members this year, and seven from its ranks are part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s incumbent retention program.

One New Democrat, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (Texas), is retiring. Two, Reps. Shelley Berkley (Nev.) and Christopher Murphy (Conn.),  are running for Senate, and one, Rep. Jay Inslee (Wash.),  is running for governor.

Three of the coalition’s members, including its chairman, Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), hold leadership positions at the DCCC. Crowley serves as the DCCC’s chairman of finance, and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) leads DCCC efforts on recruitment and candidate services. Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.) leads the DCCC’s Frontline operation, while Rep. Jared Polis (Colo.) is chairman of the DCCC’s Red to Blue program.

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