The new Congress is not even a month old, but Washington state Democratic Rep. Denny Heck is already looking ahead to the next session, making plans aimed at reviving his party in the 2016 elections.
After taking a beating in 2014, Democrats in the House of Representatives have tapped Heck to lead their 25-member recruitment committee for next year.
It’s a big assignment for Heck, 62, a second-term congressman from Olympia.
With 247 members, Republicans now enjoy their strongest majority in the House since the Great Depression, and Democrats will need to pick up a net of 30 seats to take back control.
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But Heck, a former state legislator, is off and running in his new job with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and is eager to lead a comeback. He already is wooing candidates.
“I can think of nothing more important than getting good people to run for office,” Heck said in a statement released by his office.
It’s uncertain exactly what Heck will do in his new role, where he will travel or how much time it will take away from his regular duties.
The congressman could not be reached for comment. Heck’s spokeswoman, Kati Rutherford, said any request to talk to Heck had to go through the committee. And committee spokesman Josh Schwerin said Heck was not available for an interview.
Republicans were puzzled by Heck’s appointment, expecting the post to be filled by a Democrat with more experience in tightly contested congressional districts.
“In order to regain the majority, Democrats needs to recruit candidates that can win in 30 swing districts,” said Ian Prior, national press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Therefore it is a curious decision to place Denny Heck — a Democrat sitting in a district Obama twice won by 16 points — in charge of recruiting candidates that can win in tough, competitive districts.”
Heck, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, won his last two congressional races easily, with 59 percent of the vote in 2012 and 55 percent in 2014. He lost his first bid for Congress in 2010, receiving 47 percent of the vote in a race for an open seat won by Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.
Heck won praise from fellow Democrats, who said he was a good choice for the job.
Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, one of Heck’s closest allies in Congress, said Heck has had “a long history of inspiring folks to get focused on solving problems” and serve their communities.
“He will be a big part of bringing in a new group of legislators dedicated to getting our country and our Congress back on track,” Kilmer said.
Roll Call, a Capitol Hill publication, said that Heck already has made his first recruitment trip, going to Illinois on the weekend of Jan. 10-11 to meet with potential candidates to challenge two Republican congressmen, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost.
And two weeks ago, The Hill, another Capitol Hill newspaper, said Heck had met in Washington, D.C., with Annette Taddeo, a former lieutenant governor nominee from Florida who is considering a run against freshman Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in his Miami-based district.
But Republicans noted that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is off to a tough start in New York, struggling to find a candidate for a special election to fill a seat held by former GOP Rep. Michael Grimm, who announced his resignation in December after pleading guilty to tax evasion.
After New York Assemblyman Michael Cusick on Sunday became the latest Democrat to decide not to run for the vacated seat, Prior said that Democratic committee officials “put their incompetence on full display,” failing to line up a candidate in the first big test of the 2016 election cycle.