Democracy For America Names Top 10 Progressive House Candidates For 2012

WASHINGTON -- Democracy for America, the grassroots group founded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, has named its top 10 progressive candidates in this year's House races.

The group said Thursday the top candidates are Alan Grayson and Lois Frankel in Florida, Norman Solomon and Jose Hernandez in California, Mark Pocan and Kelda Roys in Wisconsin, Ilya Sheyman in Illinois, Angela Zimmann in Ohio, Eric Griego in New Mexico, and Annie Kuster in New Hampshire. All are running for seats in the House of Representatives.

The 10 were selected through "Grassroots All-Stars," Democracy for America's annual competition for candidates challenging incumbents or seeking open seats. The group said 200 candidates entered this year's contest and more than 70,000 votes were cast by the progressive group's members.

There will be a second round of voting in which the group's members will choose the winner of the contest. That candidate will receive an official endorsement, which will come with grassroots and fundraising assistance -- including a commitment from the group to raise $20,000 in small donations from its national membership.

Democracy for America's list is a barometer of sorts for progressive enthusiasm, indicating which candidates will generate the most excitement in this year's election. With the Republican-led House receiving dismal approval ratings, hopes are high among progressives for Democrats to retake the south wing of Capitol Hill.

Among the list's high-profile candidates is Alan Grayson, the former congressman who represented Florida's 8th District until he was defeated by Republican Daniel Webster in 2010. Due to Florida's redistricting, Grayson will be running for Florida's new 27th District.

Ann Kuster, who lost a close race in 2010, has bounced back to run for New Hampshire's 2nd District. A Democratic favorite who lost by just 4,000 votes, Kuster made an impression on progressives when she beat the former presidential campaign co-chair for Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) in her 2010 primary.

Democrats also have their eyes on Ilya Sheyman, in Illinois' 10th District. Sheyman may benefit from recent redistricting, which has made the previously purple district lean toward blue.

As progressive favorite Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) pursues a Senate run, another openly gay politician, Mark Pocan, is running for her seat in Wisconsin's 2nd District. Pocan currently serves in the state assembly, and is a longtime friend and colleague of Baldwin.

A number of the "All-Stars" are up-and-comers poised to make a splash with Democrats as campaigns heat up.

Jose Hernandez, who is running for California's newly-drawn 10th District, is a former astronaut who decided to run after meeting President Barack Obama at a congressional Hispanic Caucus gala last fall. Hernandez, a California native whose parents immigrated from Mexico, is an ardent supporter of the Dream Act.

Another relatively unknown "All-Star," Angela Zimmann, has grabbed attention with her homemade campaign videos. Zimmann, running in Ohio's 5th District against incumbent Bob Latta, submitted a video starring her young daughter as part of her push to win Democracy for America's approval.

Democracy for America, founded in 2004, has backed several winning candidates in recent years, including Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), who won in 2010.

CORRECTION: An earlier version said Democracy for America was endorsing the 10 candidates. The group's statement says the 10 are the finalists for endorsement. A winner will be chosen in the next round of voting and will receive the group's endorsement.