Democratic Target List Shows How Hard It Is to Win the House

Its list underscores how tough a challenge the party faces in the 2014 midterms.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pauses during her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill, January 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. Pelosi called on House Speaker John Boehner to cancel next week's recess until the House passes an extension of unemployment insurance. 
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Scott Bland
March 3, 2014, 5:37 a.m.

The Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee re­leased its ini­tial list of top 2014 races Monday. The 19 dis­tricts and 16 in­di­vidu­al can­did­ates who won the com­mit­tee’s “Red to Blue” des­ig­na­tion show which races are draw­ing early at­ten­tion from the party, but they also demon­strate, along with races not on the list, how dif­fi­cult it will be for Demo­crats to cap­ture the House ma­jor­ity.

First of all, the DCCC named 16 ini­tial Red to Blue can­did­ates this week, but the party needs to net 17 House seats for a ma­jor­ity. Plus, three of the de­sign­ees are for seats that Demo­crats already hold, and re­tire­ments by two Demo­crats in con­ser­vat­ive areas — Reps. Jim Math­eson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Car­o­lina — put the party in an even deep­er hole. Re­pub­lic­ans are ex­pec­ted to win those seats without much of a fight. If last year is any in­dic­a­tion, some of the 19 second-tier “Emer­ging Races” dis­tricts the DCCC also iden­ti­fied Monday will get pro­moted as the cycle goes on, but the ini­tial list out­lines how dif­fi­cult it is for Demo­crats to win the House.

Be­cause of that dis­ad­vant­age, Demo­crats have fo­cused this elec­tion cycle on fight­ing for con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts that have been lean­ing against them at the na­tion­al level. Re­pub­lic­ans still hold 18 dis­tricts that Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried in 2012, but House Demo­crats need to tar­get more dis­tricts than that to get a sniff at the ma­jor­ity, and only sev­en of the oth­er 16 can­did­ates on the list are from those blue-tinged seats. An­oth­er hand­ful, such as Ann Cal­is in Illinois and John Foust in Vir­gin­ia, are from ter­rit­ory Obama nar­rowly lost, but the in­clu­sion of can­did­ates such as Arkan­sas’s Patrick Henry Hays and Montana’s John Lewis shows an early com­mit­ment to areas that have been down­right in­hos­pit­able to the pres­id­ent but where loc­al Demo­crats still have some trac­tion.

Wheth­er the party can trans­late that in­to vic­tory while Obama is pres­id­ent is an open ques­tion — and it takes more than com­mit­ment in dis­tricts like the one in Arkan­sas, where Demo­crats star­ted 2012 bullish about chances that quickly faded — but the idea is cer­tainly there. If it per­sists, Demo­crats will get to test their no­tion about cer­tain rare dis­tricts where they say the party has con­sist­ently per­formed bet­ter in midterm elec­tions.

One last not­able item about the Red to Blue list is that it skirts clear of sev­er­al prime Demo­crat­ic pickup op­por­tun­it­ies where can­did­ates are fight­ing feisty primar­ies. The party’s easi­est chance to gain a new seat this year is in South­ern Cali­for­nia, where GOP Rep. Gary Miller is re­tir­ing from a dis­trict that Obama won by more than 57 per­cent two years ago. But neither of the two main Demo­crats fight­ing for Cali­for­nia’s 31st Dis­trict — Red­lands May­or Pete Aguilar, who was tapped for an earli­er DCCC pro­gram last year, and EMILY’s List-en­dorsed law­yer Eloise Gomez Reyes — made the Red to Blue pro­gram them­selves; in­stead, the dis­trict got the des­ig­na­tion.

The same goes for an ab­sent, GOP-held dis­trict in Phil­adelphia’s sub­urbs, which slot­ted in­to the DCCC’s Emer­ging Dis­tricts list of races to watch even though Demo­crat Kev­in Strouse was also named to the DCCC’s “Jump­start” pro­gram last year. The ex­act qual­i­fic­a­tions and re­wards for these pro­grams are opaque by design, but as in 2012, the Demo­crat­ic com­mit­tee is not ex­tend­ing this des­ig­na­tion dur­ing some primar­ies where mul­tiple can­did­ates show prom­ise.

Here’s the full list of the DCCC’s Red to Blue can­did­ates, which was first re­por­ted by NBC News on Monday.

AR-02 ““ Patrick Henry Hays
CA-21 ““ Aman­da Renter­ia
CO-06 ““ An­drew Ro­man­off
FL-02 ““ Gwen Gra­ham
IA-03 ““ Staci Ap­pel
IL-13 ““ Ann Cal­lis
MI-01 ““ Jerry Can­non
MI-07 ““ Pam Byrnes
MT-AL ““ John Lewis
NM-02 ““ Rox­anne Lara
NJ-03 ““ Aimee Bel­gard
NV-03 ““ Erin Bil­bray
NY-04 ““ Kath­leen Rice
NY-11 ““ Domen­ic Rec­chia
NY-23 ““ Martha Robertson
VA-10 ““ John Foust

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