– A national Democratic group has added former state Rep. Mike Obermueller's congressional campaign to its "emerging races" list, the ground floor of a program designed to support promising U.S. House candidates.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" program allows the party to send a signal to political donors that candidates have viable campaigns.

Obermueller is vying to unseat six-term incumbent Republican Rep. John Kline, whom he lost to in 2012.

"Minnesotans are ready for change and support our campaign, which is focused on protecting middle class Minnesotans rather than special interests," Obermueller said in a statement.

Obermueller's 2014 congressional campaign has yet to generate the same enthusiasm among national Democrats as his 2012 bid — and "any suggestion that Chairman Kline is vulnerable to a challenge from [him] is laughable," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tyler Houlton.

At this juncture in the 2012 election cycle, Obermueller had already reached the top tier of the DCCC program, less than three months after announcing his candidacy. He ended up losing to Kline by 8 percentage points in a closer-than-expected race.

This time around, Obermueller has struggled to maintain that momentum. Kline, meanwhile, has racked up a sizable fundraising advantage and, until now, kept the race off the national radar.

With the next federal fundraising reporting period just weeks away, the DCCC nod to Obermueller's campaign could help him make up ground.

Kline had $1.66 million banked for his re-election bid at the end of March, the last reporting period. That's roughly seven times as much as Obermueller's $238,000 cash-on-hand total.

Vulnerable incumbent?

Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Kline is considered a safe bet for re-election by political handicapping services, including the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

With Minnesota Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan facing potentially troublesome races this fall, national Republicans are skeptical that Democrats will devote resources to the Second District contest.

House Democrats have reserved about $2.5 million worth of television ad time to defend Peterson and Nolan this fall in the Minneapolis-St. Paul television market.

Stewart Mills III, a Mills Fleet Farm vice president, is running against Nolan and state Rep. Torrey Westrom is the Republican candidate challenging Peterson.

Thus far, the Democratic ad reservations in the Twin Cities market are intended to shore up Nolan and Peterson rather than attack Kline, whom Democrats suggest is vulnerable.

President Obama's sagging popularity in Minnesota will pose a problem for Obermueller, who will have to "explain why he supports his party's failed policies, like Obamacare," Houlton said.

Kline's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell