Today, the DCCC released it's initial list of top targeting races. I want to look at each one briefly below, and get the community's thoughts. There are 19 total, and I cover 9 in this diary.
AR-02: Two-term Rep. Tim Griffin (R) is retiring from this seat to run for Lt. Governor. He defeated a no name candidate by 15% in 2012, but Democrats have a strong recruit here in Patrick Henry Hays. Hays is a former long-time Mayor of North Little Rock, the district's second largest city after Little Rock.
The likely Republican nominee is Ann Clemmer, a member of the State House leadership, though businessman J. French Hill has already raised over $500K for the Republican primary. Clemmer and Hays got into the race this year, so they have no FEC filings yet.
This race will be a real test of white, conservative Democratic viability in the South. We have the right nominee, and hopefully a bloody Republican primary will help in the state's most Democratic district (at R+8). I'm probably being overly optimistic, but I'm going to call this one a Tossup/Tilt R until we see some polling. I do think this is one we need to win in order to have a shot at retaking the House.
CA-21: We lost this D+2 district by 15% in 2012 due to a deeply flawed nominee in businessman John Hernandez. He raised almost no money and had some ethical issues, allowing Assemblyman David Valadao to cruise to victory in what should have been an easy open seat pickup.
Hernandez is running again, but the DCCC and sensible Democrats are backing businesswoman and political aide Amanda Renteria. Renteria has about $250K on hand to Valadao's $700K; Hernandez's FEC filings do not show any fundraising this cycle.
We really blew an opportunity here in 2012, making what should have been an easy win into a tough takeover race. That said, we have a natural advantage in this district and Renteria is well connected enough to make it a real race. If we can't win this one, we're in trouble. Lean D.
CO-06: This one is going to be expensive. I would say we did better than expected in this district in 2012, losing by just 2% against a two-term incumbent. This cycle, we've managed to recruit Andrew Romanoff, the former Speaker of the State House, to run against Mike Coffman.
Both men are huge fundraisers. As of the end of the year, Romanoff had $1.7M on hand to Coffman's $1.5M. The district is D+1, but that's not much of an advantage in a midterm, so Romanoff will have to keep up the pace. This will be one of the most watched races of the cycle, and is a pure Tossup. That said, it is a must-win.
FL-02: Tea Party Rep. Steve Southerland is in trouble against Gwen Graham, the daughter former Governor and Senator Bob Graham, in this R+6 district. Graham has a $200K cash on hand advantage over Southerland ($1M to $800K) and is a much stronger candidate than Al Lawson, who lost by just 6% in 2012.
There is a strong comparison between this race and the Georgia Senate race, and I think Graham will perform similarly to Michelle Nunn. Southerland is not the most disciplined campaigner, and I think he'll show those colors in a legitimately tough race. I'm more optimistic about this one than most people due to the CoH and recruitment successes, so I'm going to call it Lean D. I think we've probably lost seats in the House if we can't pick up this one.
IA-03: Rep. Tom Latham's (R) retirement made this a pickup opportunity for us, and we need to take full advantage. The district is R+0 and our nominee is Staci Appel, a member of the Democratic leadership in the State House. The likely Republican nominee is Secretary of State Matt Schultz, but the field is crowded and there's no fundraising data available for the Republicans, as Latham announced his retirement close to the filing deadline. Appel has $350K on hand.
After failing to beat Steve King in 2012, this race should be a huge morale boost for Iowa Democrats. Christie Vilsack probably would have won this seat in an open race, and I would say Appel will win if she can match Vilsack's 2012 performance in the 4th. That's a reasonable and realistic goal, particularly if Schultz loses the Republican primary. Lean D.
IL-13 This was a heart-breaker in 2012, as perennial candidate David Gill lost to Rodney Davis by just 1,000 votes in an even district. This should be a good pickup opportunity, but David has a huge cash on hand advantage and we have a competitive primary to deal with.
Judge Ann Callis is the preferred choice of the DCCC, but college professor George Gollin is running a legitimate campaign against her. She has $500K on hand to his $250K, not a huge advantage. Davis has $1.1M on hand, and clearly knows he's in trouble.
This should be one of the easier pickups this cycle, but those dual problems are going to spell trouble. I think this is a pure Tossup until we see the aftermath of the primary.
MI-01 We came within 0.5% here in 2012, but couldn't quite pull it off against freshman Rep. Dan Benishek. The DCCC is pretty high on General and Sheriff Jerry Cannon, though his fundraising leaves a lot to be desired. Benishek leads cash on hand $600K to $200K.
Geography is also important in this district, which is split between mainland Michigan and the Upper Penninsula. Cannon is from the mainland, which will reportedly make those who live on the peninsula less likely to support him. We didn't have that problem last time. Lean R.
MI-07: I'm skeptical about this one. State Rep. Pam Byrnes is challenging three term incumbent Tim Wahlberg in this R+3 district, where Wahlberg has a $700K to $300K cash on hand advantage. Wahlberg won pretty handidly in 2012 against an underfunded opponent, so I don't see this a top-tier target. Likely R.
MT-AL: On one hand, I think this is probably the strangest race on the list. On the other, how can we not compete here when we hold the Governor's chair and both Senate seats?
This is an open seat, as Rep. Steve Daines is running for Senate. The DCCC is backing John Lewis, a top aide to former Senator Max Baucus. Lewis is the only serious Democrat in the primary, though the Republican field is heavy with candidates. It's a real race between St. Senate Republican Leader Corey Stapleton ($60K on hand), St. Senator Ryan Zinke ($350K on hand) and St. Senator Matt Rosendale ($450K on hand). Lewis has $300K on hand.
I think our major problem is that Lewis is a complete unknown who has never held elective office before. He clearly has party connections, but I'm not sure he'll be able to emerge from under the competitive Senate race. It's one to watch, but the Republican nominee will need to be damaged goods for us to have a shot here. Lean R.
While we can realistically compete in all of these seats, I think our ceiling among these races is 6 or 7 victories. Between our current 17 seat deficit and a few guaranteed losses, I think we need to take 25 seats in order to safely say we took back the House. Later today, I'll look at the other 10 races.