House Democrats in Washington are gunning for the GOP seats of U.S. Reps. Chip Cravaack and Erik Paulsen as they gear up for the 2012 elections, according to the lawmaker spearheading Democratic campaign efforts.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), told the Star Tribune on Friday that Cravaack is among their top 14 targets to defeat next year. Cravaack, a freshman Republican, beat 35-year incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar last fall in an upset victory.

"I say it everywhere I go, in every state I visit, that [Cravaack's district] is at the very top of our list," Israel said.

Mike Tomberlin, a spokesman for Cravaack, said the congressman is not worried about political attacks and instead is "working to create an economic climate that will bring good, high-paying jobs to northeast Minnesota."

Israel said Paulsen, a second-term Republican, represents the other of "two potential pickup opportunities." Democrats largely overlooked his moderate district in 2010 as they focused on unseating U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

House Democrats got clobbered in the last election, handing Republicans control of the body and making it harder for President Obama to pass prized initiatives.

The DCCC can help candidates with fundraising, TV ads, valuable expertise and other resources.

Israel said U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., is among 12 incumbents who endured "tough re-elects" and the DCCC hopes to bolster his campaign in the next cycle.

The primary attention remains on Cravaack, who represents a district in northeastern Minnesota that voted for Democrats John Kerry and Obama.

But a lot could change in the next year, because Minnesota's congressional districts are slated to be redrawn. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the Republican plan and that case is now headed for the courts.

Eric Roper • 651-222-1210 Twitter: @StribRoper