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The Unusual Suspects: DCCC Hunts for Outsiders

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, unveiled a new program Wednesday to help the party’s top recruits going into the 2014 cycle.

Most notably, the House playing field is rigged against Democrats. Last cycle, Republicans controlled the decennial redistricting process in many competitive states, drawing GOP-friendly districts wherever they could. Neither party dominated the 2012 elections, which means many members from both parties remain in competitive districts.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is also on the hunt for top candidates to pick off remaining Democrats in GOP districts. In an interview with CQ Roll Call, NRCC Executive Director Liesl Hickey declined to detail the kind of candidates her committee is seeking for 2014.

Instead, Hickey emphasized the efficacy of the committee’s Young Guns program in vetting talent. The program serves as an internal benchmark system that rewards organized candidates who prove their fundraising chops.

“You have a program that everybody can participate in and everybody can have access to the best information on how to run a great campaign, and I think what you see is that the candidates who work through the process and work through the program end up being strong candidates,” Hickey said. “You have a natural weeding out process.”

Similarly, Israel announced the DCCC’s new Operation Jumpstart at his news conference this week, including plans to unveil the first round of choice candidates next month.

“When we bring recruits into a race, we want to start them off strong,” Israel said. “So we want to give them a little jump start. Candidates who show early promise receive very significant DCCC assistance. We help them with fundraising, we help them with strategic advice. We start them two steps ahead of the competition.”

But some of the DCCC’s top recruits have had two years’ worth of a head start. House Democrats have focused on several of last cycle’s failed candidates for 2014: for example, former Orlando Police Chief Val B. Demings in Florida, Iraq War veteran Brendan Mullen in Indiana and former Rep. Mark Critz in Pennsylvania.

In fact, Israel — a former DCCC recruitment lieutenant — boasted that he started his 2014 pitches on election night while making conciliatory calls to unsuccessful candidates.

Republicans are less conciliatory: Aides say they autopsy why a candidate lost before encouraging them to run again.

The DCCC’s new recruitment chief, Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, knows the truth behind trying twice for office. She lost her first bid for Congress, an unsuccessful 2006 primary challenge to Rep. Albert R. Wynn. Edwards ran again in 2008 and defeated him.

“I certainly have the experience that the second time is a charm,” Edwards said.

Shira Toeplitz contributed to this report.

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