Internal DCCC list pins hopes on 22 challengers

Confident that their political prospects are the rosiest in recent memory, House Democrats are planning a more aggressive effort to direct money to promising Democratic challengers this year.

Confident that their political prospects are the rosiest in recent memory, House Democrats are planning a more aggressive effort to direct money to promising Democratic challengers this year.

Over the next week, they will kick off a revamped Red to Blue Program that will benefit more challengers and start earlier than in previous election years.

In 2004, Red to Blue raised $7.5 million for 27 candidates, resulting in an average take of more than $250,000 per campaign. Democrats hope to improve on those numbers. 

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), revealed the names of the first 22 beneficiaries of the program in a letter yesterday to his Democratic colleagues. For the most part, they represent the strongest Democratic challengers.

“This is an exclusive program that rewards the candidates and campaigns that are most skilled, not only at raising money on their own, but at getting their message across to the voters they hope to represent,” Emanuel wrote. Other members active in the program concurred, adding that fundraising ability and success attracting press coverage had been key criteria in selecting the members.

Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), Emanuel and others are drumming up enthusiasm for the Leader’s Dinner on Tuesday, an evening-long affair in which Democrats will plot strategy for the coming elections.

“It’s all-hands-on-deck time,” said a Democratic leadership aide, who said the meeting would be geared toward “targeting the right members to the right districts” and making sure that all members were involved in races.

Pelosi, Emanuel and others will speak, offering an update on races and calling on members to pitch in however they can.

Hoyer is expected to mobilize the whip operation to encourage members to attend. Another leadership aide noted, ominously, that attendance at the event “would be noted.”

The Red to Blue Program represents a significant boost to many campaigns and a clear seal of approval from Democratic leaders.

“It means a great deal for these campaigns. There’s a great deal of competition,” a spokeswoman for the DCCC said, adding that candidates who did not make the list should not despair. “We’ll be continuing to look at names and add to that list in weeks and months to come.”

“For the candidates whose fundraising has been going amazingly well, whose earned media is on fire, this is a way to streamline assistance to them,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), co-chairwoman of the Red to Blue Program.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), co-chairman of the program, said that a second group of beneficiaries would likely be announced in June and another after Labor Day.

Wasserman Schultz said Democrats would definitely need to add more names to the list. “If we’re behind by 15 [seats], we’re going to need more than 22,” she noted. 

Red to Blue complements the DCCC’s Frontline program, which seeks to retain politically vulnerable incumbents.

Five candidates in the second phase of Red to Blue have already been notified, Van Hollen said, although their names were not readily available. In some cases, primary dates played a role in determining who would be included in the first phase. Leaders hope that some candidates will be able to collect donations from the program both before and after their primaries.

But even as they discussed fundraising, the Red to Blue leaders said it was more than a financial-aid program.

“There is a mentoring program, a surrogate program, non-tangible political assistance,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We live, sleep and breathe readiness.”

The mentoring component of Red to Blue, which was first reported in The Hill two weeks ago, will be chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

The DCCC is coordinating several events over the next week to draw attention to Red to Blue and cultivate potential donors. Emanuel, Van Hollen and Wasserman Schultz have put together a videotaped dog-and-pony show that they will present to business groups, labor leaders and Democratically aligned outside groups such as EMILY’s List and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. The trio met with the outside groups yesterday and has a breakfast planned with union leaders today and a meeting with business groups next Wednesday.

They will also show the video presentation to various member groups within their own caucus.

“It’s going to be really important for us to get everyone engaged,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We need total and complete buy-in. We are leaving no stone unturned.”

Most Promising challengers

Democratic challenger  Incumbent  District’s % for Kerry
Darcy Burner (Wash.)  Dave Reichert    51
Phyllis Busansky (Fla.)  Michael Bilirakis — retiring  43
Francine Busby (Calif.)  Vacant (Duke Cunningham’s seat)  44
Joe Courtney (Conn.)  Robert Simmons    54
John Cranley (Ohio)  Steve Chabot    51
Jill Derby (Nev.)   James Gibbons — running for gov.  41
Tammy Duckworth (Ill.)  Henry Hyde — retiring   47
Brad Ellsworth (Ind.)  John Hostettler    38
Diane Farrell (Conn.)  Christopher Shays   52
Steve Filson (Calif.)  Richard Pombo    45
Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.)  John Sweeney    46
Tessa Hafen (Nev.)  Jon Porter    49
Baron Hill (Ind.)   Mike Sodrel    40
Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio)  Deborah Pryce    50
Ron Klein (Fla.)   Clay Shaw     52
Ken Lucas (Ky.)   Geoff Davis    36
Patsy Madrid (N.M.)  Heather Wilson    51
Harry Mitchell (Ariz.)  J.D. Hayworth    45
Chris Murphy (Conn.)  Nancy Johnson    49
Lois Murphy (Pa.)  Jim Gerlach    51
Heath Shuler (N.C.)  Charles Taylor    43
Peter Welch (Vt.)  Bernie Sanders (I) — running for Senate 59