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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.

Any Democratic effort to take control of the House begins with this simple step: recruiting a few good men and women to run.

And this cycle, House Democrats are looking beyond the usual suspects — the next-in-line state representative or local elected official — in their search for talent.

Recruitment poses challenges for both parties, but especially for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. House Democrats need at least 17 winning candidates to take the majority, a steep climb in many GOP-leaning districts drawn by Republicans to stay in their control for the next decade.

So this cycle, DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, his staffers and his lieutenants are looking for “problem solvers.”

“We don’t necessarily look for the legislator with a voting record,” DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward said in an interview with CQ Roll Call. “We look for solutionists, people who have a track record of solving problems in that community or have a story that really resonates with the voters in that community — mayors, business leaders, veterans.”

Israel broadcast his committee’s general recruitment strategy in a highly touted news conference Wednesday. He said DCCC recruitment is “emphatically focused on problem solvers as the antidote to tea party extremism.”

House Democrats have sung this song before, as recently as last cycle. The New York lawmaker deployed the same phrase — “problem solver” — when he discussed recruitment during his first term as chairman.

In fact, some of the Democratic Party’s successful 2012 candidates came from state capitals: Reps. Julia Brownley of California, Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut, Denny Heck of Washington, Steven Horsford of Nevada, Pete Gallego of Texas, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and many more.

Although the “problem solvers” mantra is not new, it reflects the party’s adjustment to the contempt voters feel toward people who write and pass laws. Even on the local level, lawmakers evoke the dreaded “establishment” label increasingly abhorred by voters. State legislators also come with the baggage of a voting record.

“Hesitance isn’t the word I would use,” Ward said of recruiting legislators. “[But] it’s not necessarily the first candidate that we go to.”

Still, the DCCC has not completely written off legislators. Former state Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is challenging Rep. Mike Coffman for Colorado’s 6th District, was one of the committee’s earliest recruits this cycle.

After all, the party will need more than 17 recruitment stars to have a shot at the House if some of its own members lose re-election. Democrats picked up several seats in 2012, but there are vulnerable incumbents on both sides of the aisle going into 2014.

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