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As the 112th Congress gets set to open, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already begun strategizing for 2012 as it seeks to cut into the new Republican House majority.
Democrats are weeding through November’s election returns to decipher which Members are the most vulnerable Republicans, beginning with those who won marginal districts. Among others, the committee will target Republicans who won districts President Barack Obama carried in 2008 and those who won with 55 percent or less — the mark used as a ceiling for competitive races.
According to a Roll Call count, 32 Republicans fit both criteria. They include incumbents and newly elected Members from all regions of the country, though two-thirds hail from the Northeast and Midwest.
Northeastern targets include New Hampshire Reps.-elect Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass, who is headed back to Congress after losing his seat in 2006, as well as five from New York and New Jersey, and three from Pennsylvania.
The Midwestern targets are centered in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, where another former Member, Steve Chabot, is returning to his old seat. Many of the Midwestern GOPers will be freshmen with political targets on their back in the new Congress.
“It’s clearly where they should start,” former DCCC Chairman Martin Frost said. “That is the beginning of the comeback.”
Frost, who led House Democrats out of the deep hole caused by the 1994 elections, said there had been an ongoing dialogue within the party 15 years ago about whether to go after Northeastern Republicans in Democratic districts, many of whom often voted with Democrats in the House. Ultimately he and strategist Mark Gersh decided the Democrats must take charge and not allow those Republicans to “get a pass.”
“Those are Democratic seats, and we should target every one of those,” Frost said. “Now there’s no dispute that we should go after those Republicans.”
DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson put it in more partisan terms, saying the Democrats’ “opportunities to compete get better each day as voters learn about the real Republican agenda.” He said the DCCC “will target members who sell out to this agenda and fail to represent their districts.”
A DCCC tally shows the GOP holds 61 seats in districts Obama won. Fourteen of those also voted for Sen. John Kerry for president in 2004, making those Republicans vulnerable in 2012.
Both parties use this strategy. After the 2008 elections, when Democrats increased their House majority, 49 districts that voted for Sen. John McCain for president also elected a Democratic Representative.