Newspaper article Roll Call

What Amounts to Victory in November for House Democrats Still Unclear

Newspaper article Roll Call

What Amounts to Victory in November for House Democrats Still Unclear

Article excerpt

New York Rep. Steve Israel pushed back Wednesday on House Republicans' newly revealed ambitious goals for the midterms, but what amounts to victory for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman remains unclear.

On Tuesday, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, underscored the GOP's offensive position this cycle by announcing it aims to expand the party's House majority by 12 seats in November. A day later, Israel fired back, making public a massive DCCC polling project that promised to address the party's turnout concerns.

The reality facing Democrats in this challenging midterm cycle is that any loss of seats will make it that much taller of a climb for the majority in a potentially favorable 2016 and beyond -- while possibly even putting the party back where it started in the wake of the 2010 Republican wave.

"Let's talk as we get deeper into the cycle," Israel said Wednesday at a briefing with reporters. "I still believe it's too early to say what a victory is."

"Greg Walden can spend all his time looking into a crystal ball," he added. "I'm spending all my time looking at polling data."

Although Israel declined to announce a baseline for success, most Capitol Hill Democratic operatives interviewed for this report say they would be relieved if the party breaks even in its November head count. Democrats reconciled months ago that this was an unfavorable climate for the party, which received more bad news in early March.

First, Democrats lost the Florida special to replace the late Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young -- a seat the party had long coveted. Then NBC/Wall Street Journal released a poll showing President Barack Obama slumped to the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. The next NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in April showed a slight, within-the-margin-of-error improvement for the president.

"We'd much rather be us than them at this point in the cycle," NRCC Executive Director Liesl Hickey said in a recent interview. "The environment's much better for us. Their candidates are on defense on Obamacare."

Some Democrats agree with Hickey, if only on the atmospherics, and they spent the spring making the 2010 comparisons. Other party operatives eye-roll and refer to their anxious allies as "bed- wetters." One of the more sanguine operatives referred to the tremors as "2010 PTSD."

"That's why I can see it as a muddle-through year, where we lose a few, pick up a few, and it'll come out in the wash as three, four, five seats," that senior House Democratic operative said.

Republicans are intent on reinforcing their majority in the House ahead of 2016, a year expected to be more favorable to Democrats than 2014. As for the Democrats, their basic House race organizing principle is how to best position the party over the next decade to deal with maps drawn last cycle fortifying Republican control. …

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