House Strategists Differ on Candidate Timing

Nathan L. Gonzales May 9, 2013 · 12:01 PM EDT

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel began calling prospective Democratic candidates for 2014 on Election Night 2012, but many Republican strategists have been encouraging their potential recruits to keep their powder dry.

House strategists on both sides of the aisle are implementing two very different strategies this cycle when it comes to candidate recruitment, as evidenced by two new programs unveiled on Thursday.

The DCCC officially unveiled its new Jumpstart program, promoting an initial slate of eight candidates to potential donors and supporters.

“The newly-created Jumpstart program provides early financial, communications, operational and strategic support to help top-tier candidates get a head start in these highly-targeted races,” according to a memo from DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward.

“Jumpstart is an initial launching pad based on the quality of the candidate and the viability of
the district in races where off-year progress is critical to success, while Red to Blue remains a
program candidates earn by hitting specific metrics for their campaigns,” added Ward about the committee’s other candidate program.

But Jumpstart is just as much about building a narrative as it is about building campaigns. In their effort to gain 17 seats and the House majority, Democrats are pushing to broaden the playing field of competitive House seats to over 50 “vulnerable” GOP districts. Getting candidates into races is one way to try and build that narrative.

Republicans don’t have an interest in a broader playing field and their strategy reflects it.

While the DCCC unveiled Jumpstart, the National Republican Congressional Committee simultaneously launched its Red Zone program. But instead of highlighting their challengers, Republicans focused on the Democratic incumbents and the “dedicated staff” they would use.

This cycle, Republican strategists are encouraging more recruits to wait until later in the cycle to announce their candidacies, in part, to decrease the amount of time Democrats can spend attacking them and tearing them down.

In the mind of GOP operatives, there is very little reason to announce early if the candidate can ramp up their campaign structure and fundraising later in the cycle.