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Recognizing the potential for Republicans to take back power in the House of Representatives this November, Pennsylvania Democrats are using a variety of big-name fundraisers to stay financially competitive, including former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

Dean, a former governor of Vermont, held a fundraising event at the home of a Pennsylvania state senator on Wednesday for the Democratic candidates in Pennsylvania’s sixth and seventh congressional districts — Manan Trivedi and Bryan Lentz, respectively.

Rising to prominence as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, Dean is best known for crafting the “50 state strategy” during his time as DNC chairman, arguing that Democrats needed to compete in races across the country in order to win a Congressional majority.

Some student political leaders see the fundraiser as evidence that Democrats are invested in Pennsylvania’s tight races, despite an unfavorable political atmosphere.

“Most polls have the sixth going Republican, but the seventh is really a toss-up,” Penn Democrats President and College junior Emma Ellman-Golan said, adding that Dean’s presence “is definitely a sign that the Democrats are taking these races seriously.”

For Lentz, an Iraq war veteran and Pennsylvania state representative, Dean is just one of the many major fundraisers his campaign has landed this year. He has also held events featuring former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden. Lentz has also received an endorsement from President Barack Obama.

Political analyst and St. Joseph’s University History professor Randall Miller noted that these types of events are principally about fundraising, but are also useful tools to “rally the troops and bring in enthusiasm.”

With both Democrats behind in the polls, both Lentz and Trivedi will have to prove they are viable candidates, he added. Until then, the candidates will fill their campaign coffers with money primarily from outside the Democratic establishment.

Lentz and Trivedi are both on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” list, a program that offers support to selective Democratic challengers.

Democrats have also made an effort to recruit veterans as Congressional candidates. Both Trivedi and Lentz, along with U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy from Pennsylvania’s eighth congressional district, have served in Iraq.

Miller explained that the party’s recruitment of veterans was part of Dean’s strategy, aimed at “taking away the claim that Democrats are weak on defense.”

Both candidates will need to utilize these qualities to have a real hope of defeating their Republican opponents — incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach in the sixth district and former U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan in the seventh.

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan group that analyzes political races, currently lists Pennsylvania’s sixth district as “likely Republican,” a race not currently considered competitive. The seventh district is listed as a “toss up,” one in which “either party has a good chance of winning.”

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