New Democratic Coalition girds for 2014

Members of the New Democratic Coalition are rallying to protect vulnerable lawmakers who Republicans have in their 2014 crosshairs.

Eighteen of the 26 House members included in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) incumbent-protecting “Frontline” program are members of the fiscally centrist group’s caucus.

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Many represent swing suburban districts where less ideologically driven centrist and independent voters — many of whom are unhappy with both parties — often decide the election.

“There’s going to be a priority on the current members — to do everything we can to help them position on their reelections,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who took over as chairman of the New Democratic Coalition after the 2012 election.

“We need the New Dems to be successful for the party to be successful. Our districts are the battlegrounds, and if there’s a path forward to the majority for us, [it’s] in those competitive districts.”

The coalition, which draws its inspiration from President Clinton’s political style, spans the Democratic ideological spectrum. But the group puts an emphasis on business-friendly and free trade policies.

It is rife with freshmen after the 2012 cycle. The coalition’s ranks grew by a dozen members, success that came by emphasizing problem solving and bipartisanship.

More than two thirds of the coalition’s endorsed candidates — 18 of 28 — won their races in 2012.

The group now includes 53 members, down from the 68 at their peak but an improvement over their low of 41 after 2010.

“We’ve always fashioned ourselves as the faction of new ideas and innovation,” Kind said. “These new members are impressive. They are more pragmatic; they are more reasonable; they’re trying to break through this hyper-partisanship and get things done.”

The 2012 turnaround came after a disappointing 2010 cycle, when several New Democrats were swamped by the GOP wave.

Now, they’re playing defense again.

The New Democrats who could face tough races this election include: Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), John Barrow (D-Ga.), Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), Pete Gallego (D-Texas), Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

The New Democrats are looking to avoid the fate of the Blue Dog Coalition, which has been hit hard by redistricting, retirements and high voter disapproval of Obama in their more rural, often Southern districts.

The Blue Dogs fell from 54 to 25 members in 2010 and saw their roles further decreased to 15 after the last election.

Many of the freshman New Democrats are protecting their right flanks by splitting with their own party on a number of issues.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) supports repealing the medical device tax that is part of the Affordable Care Act, and recently bucked his party on a higher-profile healthcare vote.

He was one of 22 House Democrats — 13 of them New Democrats — who voted to delay the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act.

“I know I’m going to be judged by what I do, the votes I take,” he told The Hill on Tuesday.

Schneider won an upscale suburban Chicago district that leans Democratic at the federal level but had continuously elected centrist Republicans to the House for more than three decades before he defeated Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) in 2012.

Dold is gearing up for a rematch next year. 

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), who narrowly defeated Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) in a suburban Sacramento-based district, was one of two dozen Democrats to break ranks and vote for House Republicans’ farm bill.

Bera may face centrist former Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) in 2014.

Bera said in the freshman class “there really is a sense of wanting to work across the aisle and work together,” and that emphasis matched the goal of the New Democrats.

But unlike the Blue Dog Coalition, fewer New Democrats run from President Obama.

Kind, Schneider and Bera all praised Obama’s recent economic speech.

Republicans contend New Democrats are at risk because — despite their proclaimed centrism — they largely back ObamaCare and oppose a balanced budget.

“Calling an old thing ‘new’ doesn’t make it so. This group’s supposed hero, President Clinton, famously declared an end to the era of big government, but these self-proclaimed ‘new Democrats’ are clinging to some very old ideas,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Dan Scarpinato.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who chairs the New Democrats’ political action committee, said it has already been active in helping new members with fundraising and said it raised  a “record amount” so far this year.

Polis, along with fellow New Democratic Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.), both have leadership roles at the DCCC, and said there “has certainly been a New Dem voice” on the committee in terms of early recruitment plans.

He said the caucus’s “pro-growth innovation agenda is what a lot of swing district suburban voters are looking for.”

Even as New Democrats focus on defense, the group has begun meeting with potential candidates and believes it has chances to play offense in 2014.

The group will likely back Jessica Ehrlich (D), who’s challenging Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) once again. It is also likely to support former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings (D) if he seeks a rematch against Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.).

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said the New Democrats “can count on the full support” of his committee in 2014.