In Quest to Reclaim House, Dems Target Key Districts

In Quest to Reclaim House, Dems Target Key Districts

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - October 25, 2011

While Republicans aim to take control of the Senate and rid the White House of President Obama, Democrats are plotting a counterrevolution to reclaim the lower chamber -- and have a plan in place to do it.

It starts with candidate recruitment, the painstaking chore that is often the difference between victory and defeat. Under the leadership of New York Rep. Steve Israel, Democrats have recruited candidates for 60 Republican seats or in districts that will be open in 2012.

The magic number of seats the Democrats need to capture is 25, and even Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, acknowledges it won’t be easy.

To start, they have focused on Republican-held districts where voters backed Obama in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004. Nineteen fit that description, all located in strategically important states. Voters in these districts -- in California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington -- have proven that they are receptive to a Democratic presidential candidate. Now the trick for House Democrats is to get voters there to pull the lever for a candidate who will support the president’s legislative record. That's easier said than done, as Israel freely acknowledges.

“Optimism has never won an election in political history, so I’ll give you the pessimistic version,” Israel said in an interview with RealClearPolitics. “Of those 19 seats, the worst-case scenario is we will win 10 and the Republicans will win nine; that’s almost a 50-50 split of the most Democratic districts in the country with a Republican member and puts 10 in the bank for us."

Next on the Democrats' target list are the 43 Republicans in districts that went for Obama in 2008 but not Kerry in '04. Here again, Israel is taking nothing for granted: He says he is only counting on 10 to 15 of these seats “if everything goes wrong.” But even his worst-case scenario puts the Democrats within striking distance of 25.

Some of the names the Democrats are targeting are familiar to political insiders, especially outspoken conservatives such as freshman Rep. Allen West (pictured) of Florida’s 22nd District.

West rode into Congress with Tea Party support on the Republican wave last cycle, with over $6 million in his coffers. He defeated Ron Klein, who was elected during the Democratic wave of 2006, by eight points in a negative campaign that was among the most expensive in the country. West’s election boosted his profile as one of just two African-American Republican congressmen.

But since taking office earlier this year, West has become a divisive figure. He captured national headlines by calling Democratic colleague Debbie Wasserman Schultz “vile” and “despicable” after the congresswoman referred to West in a floor speech criticizing the GOP's budget proposal. He’s been heckled at town-hall meetings in his South Florida district for supporting and defending Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare. That’s the issue Democrats hope to capitalize on.

West will have plenty of company, too. National Democrats have sharpened their attacks on Republicans regarding the Medicare issue and are tapping widespread voter concern about possible dramatic changes in the program. Earlier this year, the DCCC ran an ad campaign targeting dozens of Republicans for supporting the plan. Democrats are framing this as a threat to seniors and hope it resonates with voters across the country.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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