With GOP Laid Low, Democrats Race to Recruit House Challengers

Democratic members wait in line to file onto the House floor to sign a petition to reopen the federal government in the U.S. Capitol, on Oct. 12 Photograph by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA via Corbis

All good things must come to an end, and for Democrats that means the plunging poll numbers afflicting Republicans after the government shutdown will inevitably tick back up before the 2014 elections. Princeton professor and poll guru Sam Wang predicts the negative swing will subside in the next two to six months, unless it’s overtaken by other news. That means the Democrats have a brief window to milk this opportunity for all it’s got.

Representative Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says this involves two main things. First, building up the bank: The DCCC outraised its GOP counterpart by $3 million in September, and it’s not hard to imagine that October will follow a similar pattern. The second, and perhaps more important, move is to sign up viable candidates to challenge House Republican seats that once seemed safe.

“Political climate changes,” Israel says. “What doesn’t change is the quality of candidates running.” He claims to have already seen a “recruiting surge” that has revitalized candidates who previously were hesitant to run because they didn’t see a good chance of winning.

The DCCC is focusing on suburban and exurban districts that have lots of independents, who’ve turned sharply against Republicans in the shutdown. Israel points to Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, who officially entered the race against GOP incumbent Representative Lee Rerry toward the end of the shutdown. Last week the DCCC added Festersen and two other new candidates to its “Jumpstart” program, which provides financial and other support in high-profile races.

“Nothing attracts candidates like adversity in the other party,” says Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report. “It’s like honey for ambitious would-be candidates who are standing on the sidelines contemplating a run.” Republicans are still more likely to retain control of the House, according to Cook’s forecast, but good candidates are one of the key factors required for Democrats to grab the 17 seats they need to retake the chamber in an upset.

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