WASHINGTON -- The Democratic Party's 2012 election campaign has tapped Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th, to lead efforts on behalf of his endangered House colleagues across the nation.

Himes, in his second term representing Southwestern Connecticut in the House, will direct the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Frontline Program" that focuses on fundraising and other election work for imperiled incumbents.

The DCCC announcement said Himes was a member of the Frontline Program last cycle "and understands what it takes for an incumbent to win a challenging district in a difficult political environment."

Himes knows from personal experience about those conditions. He upset 21-year veteran Republican Rep. Christopher Shays in 2008 by winning 51 percent of the vote, ending a long line of liberal Republican occupants of the seat that included Reps. Stewart McKinney and Lowell Weicker. He won re-election in 2010 with 53 percent of the vote.

In a statement, Himes said he was "honored to join the DCCC leadership team as we work to elect Democrats from diverse districts across the country."

The respected Cook Political Report, an independent source for election analysis, rates 17 incumbent House seats held by Democrats to be competitive, including the open seat in Connecticut's 5th District. Incumbent Democrat Rep. Chris Murphy has announced he will not run for re-election and instead will seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. The Cook Report lists the Murphy seat as competitive but leaning Democratic.

By comparison, the Cook Report lists 27 Republican seats to be competitive.

All 435 House seats will be up in 2012. Current party breakdown is 240 Republicans, 192 Democrats, three vacancies.