Feb. 15, 2016 — The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released its early primary and secondary target lists for the 2016 campaign, which is a rather curious grouping. It is already clear that the House Democratic leadership sees no path to the majority in this election, at least during this campaign period.
With the Republican advantage at 247 (once former Speaker John Boehner’s western Ohio seat is filled in special election) to 188, the Democrats would need a net gain of 30 seats just to obtain a one-seat majority. The fact that their primary and secondary target list includes only 24 races suggests that they are nowhere close to putting enough seats in play to seriously challenge the Republican leadership structure.
On the primary list of 16 candidates, two seats are already under Democratic control, CA-24, the Santa Barbara seat of the retiring Rep. Lois Capps, and the FL-18 district of Rep. Patrick Murphy who is running for the Senate. Therefore, what they believe are prime opportunity races number just 14.
A rather strange entry is FL-10, the seat of Rep. Dan Webster (R-Orlando) that the court made safely Democratic in their mid-decade redistricting ruling. In a crowded Democratic primary for a seat that will certainly come their way in the general election no matter who the party nominates, the DCCC made former Police Chief Val Demings (D) a top priority support target.
They also endorsed contested Democratic primary candidates in several priority districts. Even though former Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Miami) announced his candidacy to regain the 26th District he lost to Republican Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami) in 2014, the DCCC is putting its resources behind businesswoman and former congressional and lieutenant governor candidate, Annette Taddeo. Yet in two other districts, IL-10 (Rep. Bob Dold-R) and TX-23 (Rep. Will Hurd-R), the Committee is backing defeated former members Brad Schneider, who is in a difficult primary battle, and Pete Gallego, who is not.
Two losing candidates from the 2014 cycle, Doug Owens (UT-4; Rep. Mia Love-R) and Emily Cain (ME-2; Rep. Bruce Poliquin-R), are back for re-matches and earn the committee’s early support. Though Rep. Love’s 2014 percentage was lower than expected (51-46 percent), it will be very difficult to dislodge a Utah Republican incumbent in a presidential year.
ME-2 is one of the few districts that can award an electoral vote directly to a presidential candidate. Maine and Nebraska are the only states that can split their electoral votes, with two going to the statewide winner and one each to the candidate who carries a particular congressional district. Therefore, Maine’s western CD will draw national attention that could conceivably help Cain’s battle against Rep. Poliquin, even though the freshman incumbent has already raised almost $1.9 million with $1.55 million cash-on-hand.
The secondary eight targets, entitled “Emerging Races”, highlights one open seat already under Democratic control. Clearly the DCCC does not think particularly highly of Republican-turned Independent-turned Democrat Tom O’Halleran’s campaign effort in AZ-1 (Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick-D; running for Senate), otherwise he would have made the top list since the party can ill-afford to lose any current seat. Their lack of moving this race up is another indication the leadership does not believe converting the majority is a realistic possibility.
Despite him not being a candidate long enough to even file a campaign financial statement, the DCCC is giving attorney Cory Simpson the nod in WV-2 (Rep. Alex Mooney-R; Charles Town) over former state Delegate Mark Hunt (D). The latter pivoted out of the attorney general’s office to run for Congress, but the national committee has already decided to choose another candidate.
Several districts are surprising for their placement or absence in relation to early targeting. Former New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D), who has three times won the 1st District and twice lost it, is only on the Emerging Races list, instead of being a top target. This, despite the fact that Rep. Frank Guinta (R-Manchester) is in deep political trouble and will likely lose.
Notable seats not on either list include retiring Rep. Steve Israel’s swing 3rd District in New York, vulnerable freshman Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford in Nebraska, California Rep. Ami Bera (D) who is in trouble with the unions for his willingness to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and vulnerable Nevada Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy, despite Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and the state Democratic establishment already picking a candidate (state Sen. Ruben Kihuen).
Another surprise is their neutrality in the new FL-13 District (Pinellas County), where former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) is running. The DCCC neither endorsed him nor former Defense Department official Eric Lynn.