Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said Wednesday that the committee will announce by the end of March a series of new recruits.
He argued that strong fundraising and voters’ buyer’s remorse for Republican freshmen has the House very much in play.
The new chairman, who took over for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), told reporters that the DCCC had a “spectacularly successful” January, pulling in more than $4.4 million — which he said was a committee record for January of an off year.
That is $900,000 more than it raised in January 2009, when President Barack Obama was inaugurated, and $1.8 million more than in January 2007 — Democrats’ first month in the majority since 1994.
The new money is necessary to help the committee climb out of the red. The DCCC is $20 million in debt and started the year with just $805,000 in the bank.
The new recruits are the fruit of an aggressive strategy by Israel and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), the DCCC chairwoman for recruiting, who lead a weekly recruiting meeting and travel on weekends in an effort to draft Democratic candidates.
Other Democrats, including Reps. Betty McCollum (Minn.) and Karen Bass (Calif.), have already been on recruiting trips as well.
Israel noted that the March announcement will not be a comprehensive list of the candidates he has helped bring on board, thanks to the fluid nature of the landscape in this redistricting year.
“I have to tell you that our recruiting timeline is going to be affected by the redistricting timeline,” Israel said. “There are some recruits that simply don’t want to announce now” because of the possibility of being drawn out of a district in states where Republicans control the process.
Israel is keeping in touch with a large group of former Members who were ousted last year and will likely be recruiting some of them to run again in 2012. He said he has exchanged e-mails with former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), who lost by 7,000 votes in a statewide race against now-Rep. Kristi Noem (R).
“She hasn’t told us whether she’s interested or not,” he said. “But we would love to have her back and we think she’d be a very strong candidate.”
Democrats will be clawing their way out of a hole dug by a Republican net gain of 63 seats in 2010. With 61 Republican districts that Obama won in 2008 and 54 districts where the Republican incumbent won less than 55 percent of the vote, Israel said there are lots of areas to play offense.
“Being in the minority sucks, but being in the minority and being able to do something about it is priceless,” said Israel, who relayed the fact that he wakes up every morning thinking about how to win the needed 25 seats.
“There are 63 undefined, unvetted Republican freshmen, and we are introducing them to their constituents,” he said. “And their constituents are getting buyer’s remorse on many of them.”
That, he said, is because Republicans have not lived up to their 2010 campaign promises on the economy and to change the way Washington works. But, he said, “We’re not going to win the House back, we’re not going to get 25 seats, based on missteps, half-steps and back-steps. We will win it by putting the pedal to the metal.”
The DCCC will begin the laborious process by targeting 14 districts controlled by a Republican that both Obama and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won in the past two presidential elections.
That includes five districts in Pennsylvania, two in Illinois and others in New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida, Minnesota, Washington and Wisconsin. “This is where we begin,” he said. “It’s going to be sequential.”
The DCCC list includes districts Democrats have tried and failed to win in strong years for the party, including the district of Rep. Dave Reichert (R) east of Seattle and the Pennsylvania districts of Republican Reps. Charlie Dent and Jim Gerlach to the north and west of Philadelphia.
Some political observers scoffed when National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said early in the 2010 cycle that his goal was to overcome Democrats’ majority of more than three dozen seats.
Israel would not go that far yet, but he exuded confidence in the fact that the smaller hurdle he has — 25 seats — is possible. The redistricting dynamic and the uncertainty of the landscape 21 months from now makes predicting results impossible.
“Three months ago we had lost the election and taking the House back seemed impossible,” he said. “Three months later, taking the House back seems doable.”