The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has unexpectedly added three new House candidates to its Jumpstart Program — a designation used for top-tier recruits — amid fresh optimism about the party’s 2014 prospects following this month’s government shutdown.
The designation offers the DCCC’s top recruits financial, communications, operational and strategic support from the committee to boost their prospects early on in the election cycle.
The new candidates added to the DCCC support list, according to a release shared first with The Hill, include:
• Amanda Renteria, the former chief of staff to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who is challenging Rep. David Valadao in California’s 21st District.
• Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, who is running against Rep. Lee Terry in Nebraska’s 2nd District.
• Investor Sean Eldridge, the husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who’s challenging Rep. Chris Gibson in New York’s 19th District.
There are now 19 Democratic Jumpstart candidates, nearly equal to the 20 Republican incumbents named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s vulnerable incumbent program.
Other recruits added to the Jumpstart Program include Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who’s challenging perennial Democratic target Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.); and Kevin Strouse, the former Army Ranger running against Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
According to the release, the DCCC hadn’t planned to announce new Jumpstart candidates, “but in the aftermath of the Republicans’ shutdown, the Committee saw a surge in its already strong candidate recruiting.”
“House Republicans’ reckless government shutdown has inspired Democratic candidates to step forward because they want to change the direction of this Republican Congress and put the middle class first,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the DCCC’s chairman, said in the release.
“While strong new candidates are stepping forward, independent voters are fleeing the Republican Congress — and giving Democrats the chance to go deeper into the map to put more districts in play.”
Israel had previously touted the benefit the shutdown has had on Democratic recruiting, in Terry’s district in particular.
Though Nebraska’s 2nd District voted for Republican Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential election, the race has become newly competitive with Festersen’s entry, which the Democrat said was inspired by the shutdown.
“Like most people, my frustration has grown by the day over the last month, with the government shutdown and the brinkmanship on the debt ceiling,” Festersen told the Omaha World-Herald.
“Change is needed. And I felt it was my responsibility to be that change.”
Renteria and Eldridge are both running in districts that went for President Obama in 2012. The DCCC has unsuccessfully targeted the districts in previous cycles.
Democrats need to net 17 seats to flip the lower chamber.
Israel admits it’s hard to predict whether the backlash against the GOP would be sustained through the next year.
But several post-shutdown polls have shown Republicans taking the brunt of the blame for the situation nationwide, and district-specific polls indicate some vulnerable Republicans might be hurt by Democrats attacks characterizing them as responsible for shutting the government down.
“The Republican government shutdown gave these candidates, and the American people, an insight into Republicans’ philosophy — and it’s clear that the American people and challengers are rejecting what this reckless Republican Congress inflicted on the country,” Israel said.