The new Congress is not even one 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 who last month became a grandfather for the first time.
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.
But Heck, a former state legislator, is off and running in his new job with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, known as the DCCC, eager to lead a comeback and already 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 that any request to talk to Heck had to go through the DCCC. And DCCC spokesman Josh Schwerin said that 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, known as NRCC. “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.
Washington state Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer, 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.
And Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the DCCC’s new chairman, said Heck has been “tireless in his efforts to recruit candidates” who will fight for the middle class.
“Democrats are on offense heading into 2016 and Denny is playing a critical role in making sure we have strong candidates running all across the country,” he said in a statement released by the DCCC.
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 that Heck had met in Washington, D.C., with Annette Taddeo, a former lieutenant governor nominee from Florida who’s considering a run against freshman Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in his Miami-based district.
But Republicans noted that the DCCC 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 DCCC officials had “put their incompetence on full display,” failing to line up a candidate in the first big test of the 2016 election cycle.