With all the focus on the presidential election, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that this is an election year for members of Congress, too. And the congressional contest is no mere side attraction — the political steam of whoever is in the White House all comes down to which party holds the reins of the legislative branch.
In a drive to help Democrats win a majority in the House of Representatives, this week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced the first wave of candidates to whom they're offering financial, grassroots and strategic support. The effort is packaged under DCCC's "Red to Blue" program, which deploys resources to candidates who have surpassed competitive organizing and infrastructure benchmarks set by the committee.
Among the program's first 36 names are two African-American candidates in key battleground states: Val Demings of Florida and Nevada's Steve Horsford. The organization has identified two other notable African-American candidates, Ohio's Joyce Beatty and Marc Veasey of Texas, as up-and-comers running competitive campaigns that it is keeping an eye on.
The DCCC's effort to groom black candidates is somewhat of a shift for the fundraising organization for House Democrats, which has been criticized for not taking black candidates, or existing African-American lawmakers, seriously. Grievances from the Congressional Black Caucus have included a scarcity of black recruits, and insufficient support for black lawmakers in elections.
Those tensions came to a head last spring after a meeting between DCCC Chairman Steve Israel and the CBC, when Israel bluntly told them: "Can we win the House without the CBC? Yes. Do we want to win the House without the CBC? No."
These days, the DCCC strategy to win control of the House absolutely includes electing more African-American candidates. Here's a peek at the new recruits:
Val Demings, Florida
The first woman ever to serve as police chief in Orlando, Demings served in the city's police department for 27 years before setting her sights on national politics. Holding a B.S. in criminology from Florida State University and a master's degree in public administration from Webster University, she spent her early career as a social worker focused on foster care.
Steve Horsford, Nevada
A member of the Nevada State Senate since 2004, Horsford currently serves as the state's youngest, and first African-American, majority leader. There, he has introduced and passed legislation to increase renewable-energy technology and a recent education reform bill that aims to hold teachers more accountable, partially by putting those with two years of negative evaluations on probationary status.
The DCCC also has new polling trends to give them confidence: A Reuters/Ispos poll last week showed that voters would support a Democratic candidate in their district over a Republican by four points.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.