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House Democrats are taking a calculated risk to help some candidates in contested, open primaries this cycle — despite the potential blowback that could come down the line.
The minority party faces one of the smallest House playing fields in a decade, so the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hopes that extra support for its top-tier recruits in primaries will yield the best odds of picking up the relatively few competitive seats attainable in 2014.
“Our mission is to help elect the candidate who can win, so when we see a potential candidate who can [win] when other candidates can’t win, we want to help to do what we can,” DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward said in a Wednesday phone interview.
The DCCC’s strategy marks the first time a House campaign committee has publicly helped candidates in contested primaries since Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel ran the DCCC in 2006. Then an Illinois congressman, Emanuel handpicked his recruits — often angering his party’s base in the process.
This cycle, the DCCC has selected 16 recruits for its new Jumpstart program, which provides financial, communications and strategic support to candidates in top races. The program acts as a seal of approval from the committee that the candidate has the tools and background to win in a specific district, while other candidates may not.
DCCC aides argue Jumpstart is not a formal endorsement of a candidate. But the first crop of Jumpstart candidates have already received fundraising support via a DCCC event in Washington, D.C.
Two of these Jumpstart recruits face formidable primary opponents who were not selected for the program, and another may have a legitimate primary challenger in the coming months.
In California’s 31st District, the DCCC is not-so-quietly backing Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, who faces three other Democrats — including a former congressman.
Former Rep. Joe Baca, attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes, who has the support of EMILY’s List, and local school board official Danny Tillman are running for this Democratic-leaning seat held by GOP Rep. Gary G. Miller.
Last cycle, a crowded primary paved the way for Miller and another Republican to proceed to the general election under California’s new top-two primary system.
Similarly in Pennsylvania, the DCCC is touting veteran Kevin Strouse in the competitive 8th District held by GOP Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick. Strouse faces small-business owner Shaughnessy Naughton, whose campaign dismissed the DCCC’s support for her opponent.
“We’re not trying to win the race in Washington, D.C., but to win it in Bucks County,” said Jason McGrath, who is doing the polling for Naughton’s race.