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Expanding DCCC List Losing Clout?

House Democrats might be looking at too much of a good thing.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced last week the addition of nine more candidates to its “Red to Blue” list, a program that recognizes and assists promising Democratic candidates running in districts held by Republicans.

As of of last week, the list topped off at 54 Red to Blue candidates, plus 14 candidates listed in “Emerging Races” and six candidates categorized in “Races to Watch.” But with so many names on the lists, some Democrats question whether the Red to Blue mantle has the same clout as it did earlier in the cycle.

“I guess you probably couldn’t just call people up and say, ‘I’m Red to Blue’ and their jaw drops anymore,” said one Congressional candidate on the list, who asked not to be named.

The Democrat pointed out that most candidates can’t use the list as a “trump card” anymore but thought most people on the list already had strong campaigns and would not need to drop the program’s name at this point in the cycle anyway.

Meanwhile, so many candidates on the list means more campaigns are fighting for fundraising dollars with national donors — a good problem to have, according to the unnamed Democratic candidate.

“But that’s a high-quality problem,” the candidate said. If that means “a little bit more call time to get the resources that we need, then so be it. It’s still a great thing for the country.”

Though there’s no set checklist to get on Red to Blue, the DCCC picks its candidates for the list based on fundraising performance, campaign operation, political and grass-roots support, and sometimes polling. The criteria changes depending on the district and the candidates.

The Red to Blue program included 63 candidates by the end of the 2006 cycle, not including Emerging Races. In September 2006, the DCCC announced 41 candidates on that cycle’s Red to Blue list.

The DCCC would not say whether it would add more candidates to the list between now and the end of the cycle, but it added 22 candidates between September and November of 2006.

“The size of Red to Blue reflects the strength of our candidates for change and highlights how Democrats remain aggressively on the offense,” DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell said. “With less than two months until the election, Republicans are playing defense all over the country and can’t escape their legacy of failed leadership and strong backing of George Bush.”

The list started in the 2004 cycle. Democratic consultant Mark Nevins worked at the DCCC before the list became akin to “the Good Housekeeping seal of approval” for Democratic Congressional races.

“If a candidate is on the Red to Blue program, it is an easy way to identify people who the party believes have a realistic shot at winning,” he said.

Nevins said that the large number of candidates was a result of an expanding playing field but that the title could mean more for candidates named in the earlier rounds, such as those named to the list in January and March of 2008.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt,” Nevins said. “Maybe from Washington [political action committees] and Washington money entities, it doesn’t carry as much weight in the later rounds. It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t carry as much weight.”

Another Red to Blue candidate, who also asked not to be named, sees the burgeoning list as a mixed blessing.

“I don’t know if fundraising is ever easy,” the Democrat said. “There’s sort of two components: On the one side, it’s difficult trying to distinguish yourself from other candidates looking for dollars. On the other side, you’ve got a donor base that is excited about candidates in Washington.”

Greenwich Democratic Town Committee Chairman Jim Himes, running against Rep. Christopher Shays (R) in Connecticut’s 4th district, was on the first list of challengers named to the Red to Blue program in March 2008. Himes hailed the program as a hit with donors and local media.

“It certainly got us a lot of assistance from the DCCC,” Himes said. “It certainly helped with validation and credibility, and it helped to some extent with fundraising as well.”

But after seven months on the list, Himes said Red to Blue was more helpful in the beginning stages of his campaign.

“I guess I would agree that the Red to Blue program is more helpful early on than when it comes down to people making a decision about voting,” he said. “At this point, my critical challenge is really telling my story in my district.”

But for attorney Sharen Neuhardt, a recent addition to Red to Blue last week, the timing could not be better. With just a few days on the list under her belt, she said that for her campaign, it’s “almost night and day difference.” Neuhardt is viewed as the underdog in the race to replace retiring Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio).

“But these are the two months where now everyone is focusing on the campaigns and on the Congressional fundraising,” she said. “And this means I’ll get national support from the DCCC and I think the momentum is going to be incredible.”

And another candidate on Red to Blue, who also asked not to be named, said it was still very difficult to get on the DCCC’s list.

“It’s harder than hell to get on this list,” the candidate said. “We have been in contact with them always. We had to show them polling numbers. … We have to show really, really strong fundraising numbers, and they have to also be hearing from the folks that they trust [in the state]. This is not an easy thing to get on. Trust me, I know.”

And for this candidate, getting on the list was a major coup for fundraising. Now when the candidate calls donors, the Democrat has something to say that stands above the fray.

“I hear time and time again [from donors] how many phone calls they get from other candidates,” this candidate said. “But being able to say to them the DCCC is really committed to this race, they’re committed, and they really see this race as winnable … that sets me apart from all these other candidates who are smiling and dialing.”

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