Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) is wasting little time kicking off his tenure as the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, using the winter break to recruit candidates in some of the dozens of seats Democrats believe they can win in 2012.
Israel spent part of the Christmas break in Arizona, where he met with both Reps. Harry Mitchell and Ann Kirkpatrick to encourage them to run again, according to sources in both Arizona and Washington.
Israel's early recruiting drive aims to take advantage of what Democrats believe will be a target-rich playing field this year. Republican gains in the 2010 midterms mean the GOP holds 61 seats President Obama won in 2008 and 14 that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won in 2004. Those seats will be at the top of Democratic target lists for the next cycle.
The DCCC, under Israel's control for just a month, has already gathered a broad spectrum of members who will focus on recruiting new candidates this year, according to one Democratic source. That committee, including Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), Mike Ross (D-Ark.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.), met December 16 to begin mapping out strategy for the 2012 cycle.
Mitchell's and Kirkpatrick's districts are two places where Democrats will try to claw back some of their losses from 2010. Mitchell lost his bid for a third term to Rep.-elect David Schweikert (R), while freshman Kirkpatrick lost her seat to Rep.-elect Paul Gosar (R).
Democrats won both Arizona seats in wave elections in 2006 and 2008, and the party thinks the seats will be competitive next cycle. But at 70 years old, it's unlikely Mitchell will be their candidate in the Scottsdale- and Tempe-based Fifth District. Kirkpatrick, who turned 60 this year, could conceivably run again, and Democrats may need her to; election results this year decimated the party's bench in the sprawling First District, which reaches from the Four Corners through Flagstaff and south, stopping just north of Tucson.