Hillary Rodham Clinton's candidacy for president became official Sunday, but Democrats already see the down-ballot benefits she brings as the presumptive nominee.
Staring down Republican majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats have secured recruits in five top Senate contests. At the House level, where the process gets cranking later in the cycle, the party has landed its preferred candidates in a handful of targeted races. As Democrats continue recruiting candidates in other pickup opportunities this cycle, party leaders hope the former secretary of State's candidacy will help motivate even more recruits.
"When I was recruiting as DCCC chair in 2014, ‘I’m waiting for Hillary’ was a recurring refrain from candidates," said New York Rep. Steve Israel, who led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the previous two cycles. "So I expect that over the long term, her candidacy will strengthen the DCCC’s recruiting."
Democrats must net five seats to ensure control of the Senate and they intend to cut into the 30 seats needed to win the House majority. Presidential cycles offer Democrats a preferable electorate to midterms, with higher turnout and more diverse demographics. The party hopes Clinton's candidacy could amplify that advantage by energizing female voters to help elect the first female president.
But Clinton's candidacy, Democrats said, could also inspire more women to run for office.
"We are definitely seeing great energy with our recruitment this year. ... The energy of a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign is working together to really excite and mobilize women to run and a lot of women to support those candidates," EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock said on a Tuesday conference call.
Some of the party's top Senate recruits are women: California Attorney General Kamala Harris is the early front-runner in the race to replace longtime Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is retiring; former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is running to replace retiring Minority Leader Harry Reid; and Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth is challenging GOP Sen. Mark S. Kirk in one of the party's best pickup opportunities.
Senate Democrats are also courting New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan and former North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan against two Republican incumbents.
"There are a large number of women that are running in this election cycle, and I think in part it’s because they understand what’s at stake in the election, but I think it’s in no small part due to having Hillary at the top of the ticket," said Guy Cecil, the former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a top adviser on Clinton's 2008 campaign.
The effect could be more dramatic in House races. Medical device executive Angie Craig and physician Mary Lawrence are both challenging Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., and Emily Cain is taking on freshman Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a 2014 rematch in Maine.
"Women, I would say, talk about the so-called, 'Are we going to have another Year of the Woman?'" Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, the DCCC's vice chairwoman for recruitment, told CQ Roll Call. "And part of the recruitment pitch is that, 'Hey, we are likely to have a woman at the top of our ticket. In Illinois, we're likely to have a woman being the Democratic nominee in the Senate, and then you go down the line and there's some good opportunities.' There are some high-profile races where we are going to have some women."
In some competitive House districts, Democrats are taking active steps to recruit women. In Virginia's 10th District, Democrats are looking for one to challenge GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock, who won the seat last year.
Colorado Democrats would also like a woman to challenge Rep. Mike Coffman in the 6th District. Coffman, who could opt to run for Senate, has been an elusive target for Democrats the past two cycles. This year, Democrats think a woman candidate could provide a sharper contrast. One possibility is Centennial City Councilwoman Rebecca McClellan, who is exploring a bid.
"Every single one of our competitive districts would be welcoming to her," Israel said of Clinton. "There is no district that is competitive in the United States where she doesn’t play well."
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