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Van Hollen Says Democrats Will Be Ready to Fight in 2010

Tom Williams/Roll Call
DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said vulnerable Democrats are going to be well-positioned in 2010, even though they face a playing field that is heavily tilted toward the GOP.

House Democratic strategists are clearly hoping that Republicans continue to be perceived by voters as a party bereft of fresh ideas. And they’re 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 Obama’s 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 DNC’s 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 they’ve got as much money as they do should be a warning sign to all of us,” he said.

Van Hollen also said he’s monitoring the activities of outside liberal groups to make sure they don’t 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 doesn’t concern us,” he said. “If there is a group trying to defeat a Democratic incumbent when there’s a chance of losing the general election, then that’s 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 isn’t in danger of being captured by the GOP. He said one race he is watching is in Florida’s 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 DCCC’s “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, “we’ve got less real estate to play on,” he admitted. “That’s the dynamic moving forward.”

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