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Rothenberg: Democrats Hope Latest House Candidates Will Boost Party’s Prospects

While the House of Representatives is likely to remain in GOP hands after November’s elections, Democratic strategists argue that a handful of recent Congressional recruits give the party new opportunities for takeovers in the fall. [IMGCAP(1)]

“We continue to see quality candidates signing up to be part of the Campaign for a New Majority,” crows Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Communications Director Kori Bernards.

I have not yet met the recent recruits, so I can evaluate them on paper and based on their districts. But at least on those terms, they are all worth at least a look.

The recently recruited candidates — Bill Fuller in Alabama’s 3rd district, Joe Driscoll in Pennsylvania’s 15th, Tom Gallagher in Nevada’s 3rd, Jim Stork in Florida’s 22nd and Diane Farrell in Connecticut’s 4th — seem to be credible hopefuls. Some of them have held elective office. Others have shown the ability to raise money (or to put their own money into the race).

Fuller, a former state legislator and a former chairman of the state House Ways and Means Committee, is a last-minute recruit into the Alabama race. He announced his candidacy April 1.

Fuller, who also served as commissioner of the state’s Department of Human Resources, takes on freshman Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, who won with just 50 percent two years ago. The district is politically competitive, and if he can raise the money (something Democrats haven’t done there recently), Fuller could give Rogers a run.

Driscoll, a former investment manager who has worked for nearly a decade in real estate development, is a prized recruit in Pennsylvania because of his fundraising ability. His campaign ended the first quarter of 2004 with $480,000 in the bank.

Driscoll faces an uphill fight even though his district, in eastern Pennsylvania, is without an incumbent. The Democratic hopeful doesn’t live in the 15th, and he could face a formidable Republican, state Rep. Charlie Dent, in November.

Nevada 3rd district hopeful Gallagher jump-started his campaign by writing himself a $200,000 check, but he also raised another $225,000. That alone makes him worth a look as a challenger to Rep. Jon Porter, a freshman Republican who represents much of Clark County outside Las Vegas.

An attorney who has been close to the entertainment, lodging and gaming industries, Gallagher has never before run for office, so we don’t know what kind of candidate he will make. Three decades ago, however, he was chief legislative counsel for then-Sen. John Tunney (D-Calif.).

Wilton Manors Mayor Jim Stork, a small-businessman, has decided to take on Rep. Clay Shaw (R) in a Florida district that is competitive but was made better for the Congressman by redistricting. Stork hauled in $329,000 in just a couple of months, but Shaw has faced a series of well-credentialed, heavily hyped Democratic women opponents over the past decade, and he has beaten them all.

Finally, Farrell, Westport’s first selectwoman, has jumped into the race against Rep. Christopher Shays (R) in Connecticut. A former member of the town’s board of finance (an elected position), she complains that Shays isn’t as “independent” as he once was and too often supports the Republican Party’s agenda.

But according to recent National Journal ratings, Shays remains one of the most liberal Republicans in the House, and his leading role in campaign finance reform makes him appealing to many voters who won’t vote to re-elect President Bush.

Democratic insiders don’t expect to sweep all of these races, and I’m not at all certain that they will win even a single one of them. But party strategists believe that their new faces give the party more opportunities and greater upside in November. I can’t disagree.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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