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With the result of the special election in New Yorks 20th district likely to remain up in the air for weeks, both parties were essentially robbed of the chance to take their rhetorical victory lap in a competitive contest that they were hoping would set the tone for the 2010 election cycle.
But even as a relatively small number of votes separated the candidates in Tuesdays undecided special election and both sides were laying claim to eventual victory top party operatives sought to make the best of what the contest will mean for their prospects and message next year.
We feel like weve made a competitive stand in a Northeastern race, something we havent done in a while, and we feel like were going to be coming out on the winning side once the votes are counted, said Guy Harrison, the executive director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
If Republicans ultimately win the special election for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrands (D-N.Y.) former House seat, it would represent their first pickup in the New England region since 2004.
Harrisons remarks were made Wednesday afternoon during a wide-ranging discussion sponsored by the Hotline among the four top staffers for each campaign committee.
Harrison and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Executive Director Jon Vogel took the opportunity to lay out their respective top targets for 2010.
Vogel cautioned that the House committees are just beginning the recruitment process but specifically called out GOP Reps. Jim Gerlach (Pa.), Mike Castle (Del.) and Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) as some of our top recruiting targets.
Castle and Gerlach are mentioned as possible candidates for higher office, and if they were to leave, Democrats would have a good chance at picking up their seats.
For House Republicans, Harrison said the seats held by freshman Reps. Frank Kratovil (Md.) and Alan Grayson (Fla.) as well as Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.) will be the GOPs best opportunities to pick up seats from incumbent Democrats. All three of the districts represent territory formerly held by Republicans that switched hands in the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008.
At a separate meeting with reporters Wednesday, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) acknowledged the tougher task that the party faces in defending an increased number of incumbents next year.
Now that Democrats have 255 seats in the House, the electoral math dictates that they will have to play offense for vulnerable incumbent Members in 2010. Whats more, the party in power has historically lost seats in the midterm election in a presidents first term in office.
If you look historically, weve got a very heavy lift. We realize it. Were realists, Van Hollen said.
He said that in the 2006 cycle, there were 10 Democratic House Members in the DCCCs Frontline program a group of Members that are deemed the most vulnerable incumbents of the cycle and receive extra aide from the committee. In 2008, there were 29 Members on the Frontline program, he said. This cycles Frontline list has 40 Members on it so far, which emphasizes how many Democrats are looking at tough re-elections in 2010, Van Hollen said.