They’ve got their eyes on 19 GOP seats in particular.
By LAUREN FRENCH
The campaign arm for House Democrats has marked 19 congressional seats it will aggressively target in 2016 in hopes of knocking out Republican incumbents and electing Democrats.
The list, which the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will unveil Thursday, is the first batch of so-called Red to Blue races that Democrats have identified as prime pickup opportunities in the House.
It includes districts represented by some of the most vulnerable House GOP lawmakers, including Reps. Daniel Webster of Florida, Bruce Poliquin of Maine and Mia Love of Utah. Democrats are hoping to elect former Orlando police chief Val Demings, Maine politician Emily Cain and attorney Doug Owens in those seats, respectively.
Beyond the 19 seats held by Republicans, the DCCC also added two candidates — Salud Carbajal in California’s 24th District and Randall Perkins in Florida’s 18th — to the program. Both of those candidates are running for seats currently held by Democrats exiting the House; they are expected to be incredibly tight contests.
“House Democrats are on offense and will pick up seats in 2016, and these effective, hardworking and diverse candidates are the foundation of our success this year,” said DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat.
He added, “Not only have these individuals proven themselves ready to win by building smart campaigns and through strong fundraising, they have also proven themselves ready to fight on behalf of all the people in their districts, keep them safe and ensure the economy works for everyone.”
Being added to the Red to Blue program can be a financial boon to candidates in tight races. National donors traditionally use to the list to decide how to direct funding to lesser known candidates. It also helps solidify which seats Democrats think they’ll have the best chance of capturing during elections, establishing an early benchmark for the cycle.
The DCCC has been vetting the recruits for months. The campaign arm has also been poring over voter data to determine which districts they can mostly likely flip from Republican to Democratic during a cycle in which the presidential race will consume most of the oxygen.
The first batch of candidates also includes two Democrats challenging Republicans currently embroiled in controversies. Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey has taken heat for his comments on homosexuals. The DCCC is running Josh Gottheimer — a former John Kerry and President Bill Clinton staffer — in that race. The campaign arm is also fielding former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter against GOP Rep. Frank Guinta who was under fire for illegal campaign contributions.
The DCCC expects to add additional districts to the Red to Blue in the coming months as primaries end and declared candidates build out their campaigns. The initial Red to Blue program also includes 10 districts and candidates (one now held by a Democrat) that are deemed “emerging” and will likely be added to the full program in the coming months.
House Democrats would need to win pretty much every district identified in the first batch of competitive races to win back the House. That’s an unlikely haul in 2016, but Democrats are hopeful that Republicans will scare away moderate and independent voters if Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tops the GOP ticket.
Democratic leaders have argued for weeks that Trump and Cruz are putting new seats into play for Democrats. The broad list of potential pickups underscores how aggressively Democrats are eyeing such opportunities this cycle because of the GOP presidential primary.
The DCCC is also taking early steps to ensure top recruits have financial and institutional backing from the party even during primary contests. It’s unusual for the campaign arm to endorse during contested primaries but the DCCC is hoping that going in early for their top recruits will help put the Democrats on better footing in the fall.
Six Democrats included in the program — Carbajal, Demings in Florida’s 10th District, Perkins in Florida’s 18th, Annette Taddeo in Florida’s 26th, Monica Vernon in Iowa’s 1st and Brad Schneider in Illinois’ 10th — have primary opponents.
“The DCCC has worked deliberately to support the best candidates who are ready to win across the country, and these candidates have earned their places in our battle-tested Red to Blue program,” Luján said.
Reps. Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Denny Heck of Washington are the co-chairs of the Red to Blue program.
The National Republican Congressional Committee dismissed the Democrats’ list as an overreach.
“The DCCC’s track record with their Red to Blue program is laughable, and their latest slate of future failed candidates will do no better. Maybe the DCCC should focus on keeping their blue districts blue,” said Katie Martin, a NRCC communications director.
FIRST LIST: Red to Blue candidates (including 2 districts now represented by Democrats):
1. **California 24 — Salud Carbajal (currently represented by retiring Democratic Rep. Lois Capps)
2. Colorado 06 — Morgan Carroll (currently represented by Republican Rep. Mike Coffman)
3. Florida 10 — Val Demings (currently represented by Republican Rep. Daniel Webster)
4. **Florida 18 — Randall Perkins (currently represented by Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is mounting a Senate run)
5. Florida 26 — Annette Taddeo (currently represented by Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo)
6. Iowa 01 — Monica Vernon (currently represented by Republican Rep. Rod Blum)
7. Illinois 10 — Brad Schneider (currently represented by Republican Rep. Robert Dold)
8. Maine 02 — Emily Cain (currently represented by Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin)
9. Michigan 01 — Lon Johnson (currently represented by Republican Rep. Dan Benishek)
10. Michigan 07 — Gretchen Driskell (currently represented by Republican Rep. Tim Walberg)
11. Minnesota 02 — Angie Craig (currently represented by Republican Rep. John Kline)
12. New Jersey 05 — Josh Gottheimer (currently represented by Republican Rep. Scott Garrett)
13. Nevada 03 — Jacky Rosen (currently represented by Republican Rep. Joe Heck)
14. Texas 23 — Pete Gallego (currently represented by Republican Rep. Will Hurd)
15. Utah 04 — Doug Owens (currently represented by Republican Rep. Mia Love)
16. Virginia 10 — LuAnn Bennett (currently represented by Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock)
Other districts included in the Red to Blue program:
17. Florida 13 — currently represented by Republican Rep. David Jolly
18. Nevada 04 — currently represented by Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy
19. New York 01 — currently represented by Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin
20. New York 24 — currently represented by Republican Rep. John Katko
21. Pennsylvania 08 — currently represented by Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick
Secondary list: The Red to Blue emerging races group:
· **Arizona 01 — Tom O’Halleran (currently represented by Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is running for Senate)
· California 10 — Michael Eggman (currently represented by Republican Rep. Jeff Denham)
· Michigan 08 — Melissa Gilbert (currently represented by Republican Rep. Mike Bishop)
· Montana at-large — Denise Juneau (currently represented by Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke)
· New Hampshire 01 — Carol Shea-Porter (currently represented by Republican Rep. Frank Guinta)
· New York 23 — John Plumb (currently represented by Republican Rep. Tom Reed)
· Pennsylvania 07 — Bill Golderer (currently represented by Republican Rep. Pat Meehan)
· West Virginia 02 — Cory Simpson (currently represented by Republican Rep. Alex Mooney)
· Iowa 03 — Currently represented by Republican Rep. David Young
· New York 19 — Currently represented by Republican Rep. Chris Gibson.