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House Democratic strategists are clearly hoping that Republicans continue to be perceived by voters as a party bereft of fresh ideas. And theyre optimistic that by controlling all levers of power in Washington, D.C., Democrats will push through major legislation in the months ahead that will also be politically popular.
But he conceded that one-party rule also carries political peril for Democrats.
To the extent that the American people are, down the line, unhappy, we will be held accountable, he said. The president and the Congress will be held accountable.
By the same token, the Democrats success in the midterms will largely be tied to Obamas popularity. Van Hollen said the White House did just about all the DCCC asked it to do during the New York special election, and he said he has a good relationship with the White House political operation and with the Democratic National Committee. He is scheduled to meet with Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the DNC chairman, later this week, and Obama is headlining a fundraiser for House and Senate Democrats in June.
But Van Hollen did confess that he wished the DNCs fundraising numbers were better. Even with Obama in the White House, the Republican National Committee outraised the DNC in the first quarter of the year, and the RNC and outside Republican groups pumped more money into the New York special election than the DNC and liberal groups did.
The fact that theyve got as much money as they do should be a warning sign to all of us, he said.
Van Hollen also said hes monitoring the activities of outside liberal groups to make sure they dont try to target moderate Democratic Members. He said he does not have a problem with liberal groups pressuring Members to vote a certain way on legislation.
That doesnt concern us, he said. If there is a group trying to defeat a Democratic incumbent when theres a chance of losing the general election, then thats a concern.
On a related topic, Van Hollen said the DCCC would continue the practice of not interfering in primaries this cycle where Democratic incumbents are threatened as long as the seat isnt in danger of being captured by the GOP. He said one race he is watching is in Floridas conservative 2nd district, where Rep. Allen Boyd could face a Democratic primary challenge from the left in the form of state Sen. Al Lawson. Boyd has yet to ask the committee for help.
To guard against the fact that House Democrats will largely be playing defense in 2010 there are a record-setting 40 Members in the DCCCs Frontline program for shaky incumbents, and Murphy is likely to soon be added to the list Van Hollen is aggressively trying to recruit candidates in potentially competitive districts where Democrats have fallen short before.
Democratic strategists have pointed to a handful of recruiting victories already this cycle, and Van Hollen promised more. But after flipping 51 GOP-held seats in the past two election cycles, weve got less real estate to play on, he admitted. Thats the dynamic moving forward.