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“I do remind my colleagues that we lost 63 seats in 2010 because swing voters swung away from us,” Israel said. “Now what’s happening is, they’re swinging back — because Republicans in this Congress have gone so excessively to the right. They’ve been so hyper-partisan, they’ve been so protective of their own perks and privileges, and they’ve been so protective of millionaires versus the middle class, that those swing voters are back in play for Democrats.”
When Israel took over as DCCC chairman, the committee was about $20 million in debt and Democrats were sagging in the polls. In addition to erasing the committee’s debt and putting the DCCC in the black, Israel has set about “applying what I learned representing a swing district to the national political landscape,” as he put it.
“If you knock on somebody’s door, and there’s a pothole outside, and you say, ‘That’s not a federal responsibility,’ you will lose,” said Israel. “Get a shovel. Find some asphalt. Pave the pothole.”
It’s no surprise that Democrats would work to frame House contests around local, not national, issues, Republicans say. Though Democrats now lead by as much as 7 points in generic ballot polls, President Barack Obama may do little to buoy his party.
“In most cases, they are going to do their best to make this not a national election,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said. “Because at the end of the day, they have a president whose approval rating is not very good right now, and who is not popular in parts of the country, even where they have Democratic seats.”
Republicans acknowledge that they are taking nothing for granted. As Israel likes to point out, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Fox News in April that “there’s a one-in-three chance” Republicans could lose the House.
But because of retirements and newly drawn district lines that have made many GOP seats safer than in 2010, Lindsay said, Democrats really need to win closer to 35 or even 45 seats to regain the majority. Though the DCCC has outraised the NRCC, Lindsay noted, the GOP committee has more cash on hand — $31.3 million compared with the DCCC’s $25 million.
Israel himself is running for re-election in a redrawn 2nd district that is 60 percent new to him. As he adds an extended “listening tour” to his already busy schedule, he might want to stock up on jelly beans. An NRCC memo cites Israel as one of 16 Democrats whose seat redistricting has put in play.