Behind the scenes, both parties are deeply involved in political courtship known as recruitment ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. While Republicans still face a much better playing field as the number of competitive seats have shrunk, Democrats know the best way to make a play for the 17 seats they need for a majority is to get candidates in and running early. Republicans are taking a different approach, but getting good candidates on board is important for them too, especially as they work to defeat seven Democrats in heavily GOP seats who have frustrated them in the past.
The playing field is certain to shift and change over the next 16 months, but here are 10 early candidates—five Republicans and five Democrats—who are either in or mulling bids to watch:Democrats to Watch
Ann Callis, Illinois’ 13th District. Democrats wanted this Madison County chief judge to run during the last election cycle, but giving up her appointment to enter politics just after GOP Rep. Tim Johnson said he wasn’t running after the primary was a gamble. Now, she’s stepped down from the bench and is running in this district where Republican Rep. Rodney Davis only won by just over 1,000 votes—and Davis faces a primary challenge from former Miss America Erika Harold. Democrats will tout Callis’ time on the court as bipartisan evidence in this swing, downstate seat, but Republicans are very eager to pick apart her judicial record.
Sean Eldridge, New York’s 19th District. Democrats believe they may have had a better shot at moderate Republican Chris Gibson in 2012 if they’d had an earlier challenger in the race, and for 2014 they’re turning to wealthy venture capitalist and gay rights activist Sean Eldridge. Married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, they recently bought at $2 million mansion in the district. Republicans will paint him as a carpetbagger, but he’ll have plenty of cash to combat the charge.
Gwen Graham, Florida’s 2nd District. Graham may have a famous last name in the Sunshine State, but she’s not running on her father’s name alone. The daughter of popular former Democratic governor and senator Bob Graham, she’s an attorney for the Leon County School System, and many Republicans are taking notice of the Democrats’ get against two-term Rep. Steve Southerland. Most recently, she spent a day working at a local peanut farm to highlight Southerland’s vote against the Farm Bill, garnering lots of local press.
Domenic Recchia, New York’s 11th District. A New York City councilman, Recchia was running for Congress in 2008 against then-GOP Rep. Vito Fossella, but dropped his campaign after his wife was mugged. Now, as budget chairman of the council, he’s already racked up an impressive first fundraising quarter with over $400,000, surpassing sophomore Rep. Michael Grimm. Recchia’s criticized Grimm for still supporting Speaker John Boehner even after the House delayed a recovery package for Hurricane Sandy, which devastated this Staten Island district. Staten Island is still GOP borough, but Democrats think they’ve finally found a strong recruit who’s in early for this district.
Andrew Romanoff, Colorado’s 6th District. The former state House speaker didn’t make many friends in his own party when he ran against (and lost) to Michael Bennet in the 2010 Senate primary, but they’re now embracing his run for Congress after he passed on a bid here last year. Romanoff’s already got nearly a half-million dollars in the bank, and this will be one of the top races in the country for both parties. Immigration will be a flashpoint in this district, and Republicans will likely focus on Romanoff’s voting record from when he was in the state legislature.Republicans to Watch
Carl DeMaio, California’s 52nd District. DeMaio isn’t your average Republican. An openly gay businessman and government reform advocate, after four years on the city council DeMaio ran for San Diego mayor but lost by five points. Still, he spent over $3 million in that race, and won portions of the city in the 52nd District, which freshman Democrat Scott Peters won last cycle by beating longtime GOP congressman Brian Bilbray. Early polling for the NRCC has shown DeMaio up over Peters, and this is a top race to watch in the state where Republicans struggled in 2012.
Mia Love, Utah’s 2nd District. You may have seen Love’s name before, and even heard her well-received address at last year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa. Republicans were ecstatic about Love’s candidacy in 2012—a female, African-American, Mormon mayor of Saratoga Springs—against perennial frustration Rep. Jim Matheson. But that didn’t translate into victory for Love, and there was private frustration over her campaign operation and that stardom may have gone to her head as she lost by just 768 votes as Romney carried the district by 37 points. She has a revamped campaign team, and Republicans are once again optimistic, but Democrats argue if they couldn’t get Matheson with Romney on the ballot, they won’t again.
Martha McSally, Arizona’s 2nd District. Republicans believe McSally, the first female fighter pilot in U.S. Air Force history, would have done better if she’d have been their nominee in the special election to fill former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ seat, but with a late primary and lingering tensions after a bitter special contest, she didn’t catch on as fast as they would have hoped. Now, she’s likely to make another bid against Rep. Ron Barber, Giffords’ former district director who’s serving his first full term.
Stewart Mills, Minnesota’s 8th District. Most House recruits aren’t initially lauded as having “Brad Pitt kind of appeal,” but Mills, with shoulder length hair and a young, rugged appearance, doesn’t look like most politicians. He’s CEO of his family’s business, Mills Fleet Farm, an outdoor store in the Midwest, and Republicans are eager to contrast him with 69-year old Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan, who won last cycle after a two decade absence from the House in this rural Iron Range district Obama narrowly carried with 52%.
Kraig Paulsen, Iowa’s 1st District. Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley’s seat has vexed Republicans before, but now that it’s an open seat as he’s running for Senate, they’re hoping to compete here after falling short several times. One way to do that—convince sitting the sitting House Speaker to make a bid in this district Obama won with 56% and where Braley will lead the Senate ticket. Paulsen isn’t in yet, and there will likely be competitive primaries on both sides, and he could face former House Speaker Pat Murphy for Democrats. This race is worth keeping an eye on to see whether Hawkeye legislative heavyweights will battle it out.