Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) today unveiled the Republican-held and open seat targets he believes will fuel his party’s campaign to retake the House majority this November.

“It’s going to be razor-close,” Israel told reporters, saying the House was in play but that he would make no grand pronouncements about victory. “Optimism has never won an election in all of human history, realism does.”

Launched by then-DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel in 2006, the “Red to Blue” campaign aids top Democratic recruits with fundraising and organizing. (The National Republican Congressional Committee runs a similar program called “Young Guns.”)

But this cycle’s system is more complicated. Democrats are announcing not just candidates they support but districts where they don’t want to endorse in the primary but believe strong contenders exist. There are also “emerging races” where candidates are considered promising but need to show improvement. (The full “Red to Blue” list is at the bottom of this post.) All together, Israel argued that 76 seats were in play.

While Israel claimed that “cold-blooded” metrics were used to identify the most promising candidates, he added that “there is a hunch factor,” comparing the final decision-making process to the snap judgements described in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”.

Only a couple of “Red to Blue” candidates actually won in the GOP wave of 2010, but Israel argued that those lackluster results were irrelevant. “Any comparison to last cycle is dangerous,” he said, because there were “gale force winds against us” that don’t exist this time around.

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found Democrats leading Republicans 48 to 44 percent in a generic congressional ballot — a sign, Israel says, that the tide has shifted in his party’s favor.

This is the earliest Democrats have ever announced their “Red to Blue” recruits; in past years they waited until February or March.

2012 Red to Blue List

* Ami Bera (CA-07) — running against Rep. Dan Lungren

* Jose Hernandez (CA-10) — running against Rep. Jeff Denham

* Mark Takano (CA-41) — open seat, new district

* Sal Pace (CO-03) — running against Rep. Scott Tipton

* Val Demings (FL-08) — running against Rep. Dan Webster

* Keith Fitzgerald (FL-13) — running against Rep. Vern Buchanan

* Christie Vilsack (IA-04) — running against Rep. Steve King

* Brendan Mullen (IN-02) — open seat, Democratic-held

* Pam Gulleson (ND-AL) — open seat, Republican-held

* Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02) — running against Rep. Charlie Bass

* John Oceguera (NV-03) — running against Rep. Joe Heck

* Dan Maffei (NY-25) — running against Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle

* Charlie Wilson (OH-06) — running against Rep. Bill Johnson

* Kathy Boockvar (PA-08) — running against Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick

* Nick Lampson (TX-14) — open seat, new district

* Denny Heck (WA-10) — open seat, new district

* Jamie Wall (WI-08) — running against Rep. Reid Ribble

* Paul Hirschbiel (VA-02) — running against Rep. Scott Rigell