Political prognosticator Charlie Cook ranks Illinois' 17th Congressional District as solidly Democratic ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, but that's not keeping Democratic freshman Rep. Cheri Bustos and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from taking any chances.
Bustos, who defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Bobby Schilling in November, was one of 26 Democratic House members named to the DCCC's "Frontline" program earlier this week, a partnership designed to boost politicians' fundraising and electoral prospects. (The National Republican Congressional Committee operates a similar program for its members.)
Naming Bustos to the Frontline program is a doubling down on the investment the DCCC has already made in her: Ahead of Election Day 2012, the DCCC spent about $2.9 million on political ads trashing Schilling — ads legally known as "independent expenditures" because they were not coordinated with Bustos' campaign.
That was more money than the committee spent on independent expenditures in any other House race, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of records filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Bustos is hardly alone among the newly named Frontline participants in terms of past DCCC air support.
All 26 newly named Frontline participants had DCCC-sponsored ads produced on their behalf in 2012, according to the Center for Public Integrity's analysis. And their races accounted for nearly half of the more than $60 million the DCCC spent on independent expenditures during the 2012 election cycle.
Last year, the DCCC made at least $2 million worth of independent expenditures in the races of several Democrats who are part of the 2014 Frontline program, including:
- Bill Enyart of Illinois
- Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona
- Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire
- Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire
- Scott Peters of California
- Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona
These House races are again expected to be some of the most competitive electoral contests.
For her part, Bustos' campaign ended 2012 with just $25,000 in the bank and $11,500 in debt, records show, after raising and spending about $2.2 million to unseat Schilling.
Emily Bittner, the DCCC's national press secretary, said her organization was backing Bustos because she is "committed to fighting for the middle class" and "focused on getting results for the people of Illinois."
"We are confident voters will re-elect her,” Bittner added.
A spokesman for Bustos did not respond to requests for comment.
In 2014, Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to wrest control of the U.S. House of Representatives from Republicans.