Updated 2:30 p.m. | LEESBURG, Va. — President Barack Obama has agreed to do more than just raise money for House Democrats’ effort to win back the majority in 2014: He is also going to help with candidate recruitment.
Obama will headline eight fundraising events in 2013 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and more fundraisers are planned for 2014. But Obama’s agreement to help DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York make the sell to would-be candidates in targeted districts is also significant.
“It’s transformational,” Israel said in an interview, adding that House Democrats are “firing on all cylinders like I’ve never seen before.”
The president’s efforts to assist House Democrats politically are more than Israel initially even asked for.
Obama initially reached out to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Israel just after leaving the stage where he delivered his victory speech in Chicago on election night. Four years into his presidency, and after keeping the DCCC practically at arm’s length as he focused on his own re-election in the 2012 cycle, he was finally turning his gaze toward winning back the House.
Obama then called the DCCC chairman on his cellphone two days later to reiterate his commitment to helping. He told the New York Democrat that Jim Messina, his top political aide, would be in touch to find out what Israel needed.
In late January, Messina got in touch. Israel carefully weighed his “ask” and hoped for the best. On Tuesday, Messina came back with more than Israel even expected. That included Obama’s fundraising and recruitment help, as well as support from the president’s political apparatus. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be doing fundraising events on behalf of House Democrats as well.
Not surprisingly, Republicans cheered the news that Obama is getting more involved politically in helping House Democrats — a point they will no doubt continue to highlight in messaging and in ads, especially in places where candidates will want to distance themselves from the national party.
“House Republicans welcome this great news," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. "President Obama recruiting a bunch of liberal lap dogs to run in middle-of-the-road House districts will go a long way toward ensuring a Republican victory in 2014.”
Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to return to majority status in the House. Obama’s cooperation — which is likely to extend to other areas, as well — is an important boost to Democrats in the 2014 cycle. But the party’s path back to the majority remains fundamentally difficult.
GOP redistricting victories last cycle and the natural political ebb and flow six years into a president’s term — the so-called “six-year itch” midterm election — make netting 17 seats a lofty prospect.
But at the party’s annual retreat here, the rank and file heard other reasons to be hopeful.
Israel had good news to deliver colleagues in a closed-door session on electoral reforms titled “Strengthening Our Democracy.” Members poured $2 million into the DCCC’s coffers in the first month of the two-year cycle, an unheard of amount, Israel said. The DCCC also pulled in an impressive $1 million online.