Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards, 56, for the second straight time heads the "Red to Blue" program at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — that is, the targeted effort to win Republican-held seats in November. On USA TODAY's Capital Download newsmaker series, she talked about Democratic prospects, President Obama's impact and the exploding immigration crisis. Answers and questions have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Just 17 Republicans represent House districts that were carried by President Obama in 2012. So realistically, how many seats can Democrats gain?
A: It's a tough task, but it's not an impossible one. I think we will get these one district at a time, one race at a time. No race is Iowa is the same as a race in Missouri or a race in California. I'm excited about our prospects, and I don't think that you can predict what's going to happen on election night in November based on what's going on in real time in July.
Q: Obama is popular with core Democrats, but what's his impact in these swing districts?
A: We need those core Democratic voters to turn out, and those people are in fact still responding to a message by the president. So it's actually really important for us to generate the kind of enthusiasm that we need in our base. Then we also need individually to go after those independent voters who are concerned about the larger economy, who are concerned about what's happening in their home and whether they're going to get a member of Congress who's going to fight for them.
Q: What do you advise Democratic candidates to say about Obama?
A: I think that depends on the district, quite frankly. There are some districts where the concern isn't about the president. It's about the person who is the incumbent, who voted to shut down the government. It's the person who wants to deprive them of health care. It's the person who doesn't want to deal with serious issues like immigration.
Q: When you try to recruit candidates, do they ever look at how Washington works, or doesn't work, and say, why in the world would I want to go there?
A: What I say to candidates is ... there are things that make the headlines and other things that make a difference in people's lives that will never be on the headlines. When I first came into Congress, I got Maryland added to the list of states that could provide free and reduced supper for kids who receive free and reduced breakfast and lunch. This has helped millions of kids and fed millions of meals across our state.
Now, that's not something that's going to make a headline but it's something that makes a difference. When our candidates hear about the opportunities to make a difference in those kinds of ways in their communities, they're more inclined to take up the mantle than if they think it's just a bunch of partisan fighting.
Q: Obama will be in Texas Wednesday to raise money for the DCCC. Do you think he should go to the border to look firsthand at the crisis with all these kids from Central America?
A: I have to tell you, I'm much more of a hands-on person. So, for me, visiting the border would make sense in terms of my ability to make decisions. People do things differently. I think if I were advising him, I'd advise him to go to the border.
But I respect the fact that he's decided otherwise. ... He's calling on Congress to do something about it. And all the visiting of the border in the world isn't going to change the fact that Congress hasn't done anything yet, and that is at the feet and the hands of John Boehner, of the Republican Party that refuses to bring immigration reform to the floor for a vote. It would pass.
Q: There are calls to revise the 2008 law that provides special treatment for these unaccompanied children. Is that a good idea?
A: You know what, it feels very piecemeal to me. I think one reason we're in this crisis right now is we haven't dealt with immigration in a comprehensive kind of way. I would worry that if we start picking and choosing which parts of the law we're going to enforce or repeal, that we're not going to get to the core of what the problem is.
We need a comprehensive immigration reform bill that addresses our border security, addresses how people can move on a pathway to gain citizenship and then all the people who remain here within our borders. Unless and until we have that comprehensive solution, nitpicking to deal with a short-term crisis isn't going to solve the problem.
Q: Let's talk about 2016. Are you supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton?
A: Well, I've been a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton. I supported President Obama when he first ran. But as a woman and a woman elected official, I can hardly sit on the sidelines with another woman running for president.
I think, frankly, for Democrats' prospects, I would like to see us not have a food fight when it comes to our nominee. Let's make a decision about who our nominee is going to be, go into the 2016 election strong.
Q: You're known for citing song lyrics that apply to political situations. For 2014, what song applies?
A: I think I would say maybe (to Republicans), 'Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey-hey, good-bye.'