The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has named the race in the 13th Congressional District in Florida one of 18 "red to blue" campaigns, providing a boost to presumptive Democratic nominee Keith Fitzgerald as he tries to unseat Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.
Red-to-blue candidates, according to the DCCC website, will be offered "financial, communications, grassroots, and strategic support. The program will introduce Democratic supporters to new, competitive candidates in order to help expand the fundraising base for these campaigns."
Fitzgerald, who raised $223,000 during the first three months of his campaign, welcomed the support.
“Getting named to the Red-to-Blue program is a testament to this community's desire to see a different kind of leadership in Washington," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "For too long, we've seen a Washington more consumed with what they can do for themselves, rather than how they can serve their nation.
"This is a huge step in our effort to bring an honest, common sense approach to creating jobs and protecting the commitment made to our greatest generation.”
Before the national Democratic Party decided to invest in Fitzgerald as part of its campaign to re-take the House of Representatives, he had to prove he was viable. He helped make that case not only with his fundraising, but with a demonstrated ability to organize grassroots support and to draw a clear contrast with Buchanan, said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chair of the DCCC.
"Keith impressed us tremendously with his work ethic early on," Israel said during a conference call with Florida reporters.
Israel said the emergence of Fitzgerald has been one of the "nicest surprises" for Democrats during the current election cycle.
Fitzgerald's fundraising prowess and support from national Democrats will be key in a race against Buchanan, a skilled fund-raiser with a proven willingness to spend part of his personal wealth on his campaigns. As of Dec. 31, he had $1.1 million in cash on hand in his campaign account.
Israel said Fitzgerald now has a "coveted status" among Democrats. The DCCC will back it up by granting Fitzgerald to national donors and providing other support.
National Republicans are likely to rally around Buchanan, vice-chairman for finance of the DCCC's Republican counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, as the GOP works to hold onto control of the House.
But there also are questions about Buchanan's ethics revolving around some of his fundraising, and his votes on certain issues, that the DCCC's assistance could make it easier for Fitzgerald to try to exploit as the campaign proceeds.
Israel said Buchanan has been "enmeshed in scandal," and is currently being investigated by the Justice Department and the House Ethics Committee.
"If the Girl Scouts could, my guess is they would start investigating Vern Buchanan," Israel said.
Israel said Buchanan is vulnerable because he sided with other Republicans and against his constituents on a variety of issues affecting seniors and other middle class constituents in his district. For example, Buchanan voted for a budget proposal authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that Israel said would eliminate Medicare.
Fitzgerald has been "focused on protecting Medicare, while Congressman Buchanan is focused on protecting himself from investigation."
In a statement, Buchanan's campaign indicated it wasn't ready yet to engage with Fitzgerald.
"We look forward to discussing the issues later this year when we get closer to the election," the campaign said.