Look at congressional contests in the region this year, and it's striking that one of the least competitive races features the candidate with the biggest campaign fund -- Democrat Allyson Schwartz with more than $2.3 million on hand.

"Philadelphia is a very expensive media market," Schwartz said by way of explanation in an interview. "So, should anything unusual happen, you want to be prepared."

But Schwartz's energetic fundraising increasingly serves a broader agenda of hers -- to be a national player in the Democratic Party and expand her policy reach in Congress

Schwartz's fund has donated more than $1 million to other Democrats in Pennsylvania and around the country since 2008, and she's now the national chair for recruiting and candidate services for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"My responsibility is to work to recruit candidates from across this country to run for congressional seats we believe we can win," Schwartz said.

It's probably not a role Schwartz envisioned when she first ran for Congress in 2004. Schwartz moved into a district straddling Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County, a seat drawn with a Republican, Melissa Brown, in mind.

Then a state senator, Schwartz proved a formidable campaigner, winning a tough primary battle and then beating Brown by 15 points.

Little challenge from GOP

Four terms later, Republicans have all but given up trying to defeat her. The GOP candidate running against her is airline pilot Joseph Rooney, a political novice who's year-end campaign report showed he'd raised about $8,000, mostly from himself.

"Congresswoman Schwartz is no rookie anymore," said political analyst Jeff Jubelirer.. "She's the senior woman, and one of more senior members of our Pennsylvania congressional delegation."

As part of her work with the DCCC, Schwartz has had heart-to-heart conversations with more than a hundred Democrats whom leaders think would make credible candidates in competitive districts. Once they've committed, Schwartz said she monitors their campaigns and tries to help them win.

"The conversations (then) get a little tougher in a way," Schwartz explained. "You need to be able to say, 'You haven't put the team together yet. There's expertise out there, go and get it. We'll send you resumes, here's how you do it. You have to commit more time to this.'"

Besides dispensing advice and encouragement, Schwartz helps candidates raise money, and contributes to their campaigns.

Forging political alliances

Schwartz wants to help Democrats take back the House, but there's another motive for her efforts. She wants to have more impact in Congress, and candidates she helps will remember her when they get to Capitol Hill.

And the more she helps the national party, the more clout she has with Democratic congressional leaders. So they're more likely to think of her when they're naming members to an important committee.

"Of course it gets noticed that I'm willing to help other people, that I'm willing to build those relationships," Schwartz explained.

Schwartz was recently named to a payroll tax conference committee, the only House Democrat appointed who didn't already hold a leadership position within the caucus.

It was a policy interest of Schwartz's, but it didn't hurt that she's now a more visible player in the national Democratic Party.