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Iowa, N.H. Frosh in Favor

The 2006 midterm elections produced a bumper crop of Democratic freshmen — and returned the party to power in Congress for the first time in 12 years — but the four new House Members from Iowa and New Hampshire might easily win a contest for most popular in the class.

Not only do the four frosh have front-row seats for the 2008 presidential election back home in their respective first-in-the-nation caucus and primary states, but each is being personally courted and cajoled for their support by the White House candidates.

While praising the strong field of Democratic contenders — led by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) — most of the Iowa and New Hampshire freshmen seem undecided about whether they will eventually wade into the 2008 fracas. But they appear unified in keeping their powder dry for now, believing that issuing an endorsement at this early stage in the game would be foolish.

“All kinds of people are coming to talk to me all the time,” offered Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), adding that just before a round of votes Tuesday afternoon he had been approached in the Democratic cloakroom by another Member on behalf of one of the 2008 candidates.

Lawmakers in both states agreed that choosing a horse in the White House race too early could hurt them with their constituents, many of whom pride themselves on having personal interaction with most of the candidates before casting their caucus or primary votes.

All of the Iowa and New Hampshire freshmen are possible Republican targets next year and as such are in need of all of the political and fundraising assistance they can get.

“All of the [presidential] candidates have been helpful in one way or another,” Hodes said, whether it be contributions, offering counsel or making introductions. “All have indicated they’re eager to help me.”

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), another freshman, acknowledged it is hard for him to move around his district without crossing paths with one or more of the contenders. Over the April recess, he said he appeared at events with both Clinton and Edwards, whom he also introduced Sunday at a town hall event in Waterloo.

“There’s some great candidates in this race and that’s the great news,” said Braley, who has not yet decided on whether to endorse.

Braley noted that many of the 2008 contenders made campaign appearances in Iowa even before the 2006 elections and were helpful in boosting his and other Democrats’ election to the House last fall. Among those making appearances in the state were Obama, Edwards and Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.).

But with a different perspective now as a Member of Congress and not just as a candidate, Braley acknowledged the change in the outpouring of assistance.

“When I appear at an event, it’s different” now, he said.

Last weekend, all of the White House candidates were invited to attend the Polk County Democrats’ spring fundraiser featuring Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) in Des Moines. Edwards, Biden and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) came to the event Friday night.

The following day, Clinton appeared at a Des Moines rally with Boswell and then raised money at a fundraiser for the six-term Congressman that night.

Boswell, the only veteran Democratic lawmaker among the Iowa and New Hampshire contingency, has been a perennial target for the GOP in his central Iowa swing district that is split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans. But Boswell did not endorse prior to the 2004 Iowa caucus and he hasn’t indicated whether he will do so this time around, according to his spokeswoman.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), one of the most vulnerable freshmen in the 2006 class, said she is not expecting to endorse in the presidential race but acknowledged that the pressure to do so will only mount as the race wears on. She said the fact that she may face a difficult re-election of her own next year was not a factor in weighing whether to endorse, and she conceded that perhaps throwing her support to one candidate “actually could help in some ways.”

When asked by one of the candidates if she was still on the fence about making an endorsement, Shea-Porter said her reply was “Yes, and I’m trying hard not to fall off.”

Shea-Porter also noted how the 2008 contenders are looking to make use of the freshmen’s recently greased political operations in their own grass-roots organizing.

The Congresswoman rode the Democratic tide in 2006 to victory and did so with a low-budget campaign staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers.

She said that those in her activist army have heard from all of the Democratic contenders by this point but that largely, like her, they are “watching, listening and waiting to endorse.”

Hodes said that the independent-minded voters in New Hampshire would view an early endorsement as “interference in that delicate process.”

He said that he does not have a time frame for issuing an endorsement but that he will know when the time is right.

“As a freshman Member, it presents opportunities that some colleagues in other states don’t have,” Hodes said, adding that he feels “a special obligation in the way I handle the process.”

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