The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, convinced that its vulnerable incumbents are now well-positioned for re-election, is shifting its focus to the growing list of Republican open seats, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in an interview Wednesday.
Van Hollen has spent the year on defense, urging Democratic donors to bolster the campaign coffers of 31 incumbent House Democrats the DCCC had deemed vulnerable. But heading into 2008, Van Hollen is going on the offensive and encouraging contributions to Democratic candidates running in Republican open seats — beginning with six in Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio and Wyoming.
Overall, the DCCC is targeting 40 Republican-held seats in 2008 — both open seats and those where the incumbent is running for re-election, Van Hollen confirmed. Van Hollen acknowledged that the DCCC’s continuing wide cash advantage over the National Republican Congressional Committee was a key factor in his decision to shift his focus to aiding Democratic challengers.
“We don’t have to spend all of our time worrying about what the Republican committee is going to be able to throw at our incumbents. There’s no doubt that allows us some flexibility,” Van Hollen told Roll Call. “It has given us some room to maneuver. Definitely.”
The fundraising numbers for the DCCC and NRCC are due to be released today but were not available at press time on Wednesday. However, the NRCC had a paltry $2.5 million in the bank at the end of October, compared with $28.3 million for the DCCC.
Van Hollen contended that vulnerable Democratic incumbents are in solid political shape generally because 12 of them either don’t have a challenger or lack serious competition. Nine of them are strong because they already have more than $1 million in cash on hand, he said.
The NRCC dismissed Van Hollen’s argument that vulnerable Democratic incumbents across the board are secure for re-election more than 10 months before Election Day.
At the outset of Van Hollen’s shift in strategy, the DCCC has its eye on 17 seats where the Republican incumbent is retiring — that number could grow — and in particular is focused on 12 seats where it believes it has a candidate in place who is solid at the very least. In those 12 districts, the DCCC is embarking on an immediate fundraising effort to flood six of them with campaign cash, with a similar effort focusing on the other six to follow at a later date.
The first six Democratic candidates set to enjoy the largess of the DCCC’s fundraising effort include state Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson in Illinois’ 11th district; state Sen. John Adler in New Jersey’s 3rd; state Assemblywoman and 2006 nominee Linda Stender in New Jersey’s 7th; Franklin County Commissioner and 2006 nominee Mary Jo Kilroy in Ohio’s 15th; state Sen. John Boccieri in Ohio’s 16th; and 2006 nominee Gary Trauner in Wyoming’s at-large.
Van Hollen said these six candidates made the cut for immediate fundraising assistance because they are running in open seats, have no primary challenger, and have proved their mettle as politicians and fundraisers since entering their respective races.
“Our ‘Frontline’ Members have put themselves in a very strong position,” Van Hollen said of potentially vulnerable incumbents. “It allows us to partner with these campaigns — to team up with these campaigns — and do what we can to direct resources into these campaigns.”
The NRCC disputed Van Hollen’s contention that the several Democratic incumbents running for re-election in Republican-leaning districts — including many freshmen elected in last year’s anti-GOP wave — are safe for re-election.
But an NRCC official practically invited the DCCC to follow through with its new challenger-centric strategy, arguing that an anti-incumbent atmosphere and Congress’ low approval ratings could create a perfect storm for Republican candidates in 2008.
At the outset of this cycle, the DCCC included 31 House Democrats in its special “Frontline” fundraising program for vulnerable incumbents, although two freshmen considered highly at risk, Reps. Nancy Boyda (Kan.) and Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), declined to participate.
NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said that several of the incumbents the DCCC itself has deemed vulnerable clearly remain in political jeopardy — and that the GOP committee identifies many more Democrats as being in peril.
“No amount of air cover from the DCCC can change the fact that their flawed candidates are far too liberal and out of step with voters,” Spain said. “The 2008 elections will be fought by and large on Republican turf, but if Democrats want to take a brazen approach and ignore their record-low approval ratings, they are welcome to continue to overreach.”
Among the 40 Republican-held seats the DCCC is targeting generally, Van Hollen acknowledged that not all of them are exceedingly vulnerable to a Democratic takeover. But he said they all exhibit potential, and include a mixture of the following factors:
• The demographics of the district benefit the Democratic candidate.
• The Democratic presidential nominee won the district in 2004.
• The Democratic presidential nominee performed reasonably well in the district in 2004, and the 2008 Democratic House candidate is particularly strong.
• The Republican incumbent running for re-election in the district is damaged — either ethically or in some other manner.
“We’re now letting our base know, our supporters around the country know, that it’s critical that they now start directing resources to some of our key challengers,” Van Hollen said. “We think we’ve done a good job putting our Frontliners in good shape.”