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Democrats Eye Gains in House

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel is optimistic his party can win 25 seats.

For Democrats, the top of the ticket is weighing down the rest of the ballot.

Just more than a year before voters go to the polls, winning 25 GOP-held House seats is within the realm of possibility for the party. But given the mood of the country and the substantial number of deeply vulnerable Democratic incumbents, netting the 25 seats necessary to take back the House pushes the edge of plausibility.

House Democrats are doing all the right things raising more money than their Republican counterparts, recruiting some strong candidates, building infrastructure and pushing a consistent message.

But even a flawless execution on the part of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) will probably not be enough if President Barack Obama, dragged down by a sour economy and persistent unemployment numbers, remains a political burden on almost every Democrat running in a competitive race.

"Look, the president's numbers right now need to improve," Israel said in an interview. "But far below the president's numbers are House Republican numbers, and that's what counts."

Top House Republicans, of course, don't believe that 2012 will be a statement on their leadership. They say it will be a referendum on Obama's policies.

"This election is about jobs. And the president's plans have failed the people who are looking for work in America," National Republican Congressional Committee Deputy Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) said. "I think the president's just got a real problem. And the more he has a problem, the deeper the problem the Democrats have, especially in the House."

Obama has a lower approval rating at this point in his presidency, 42 percent, than any other president since Gallup started polling that metric in 1945, with one exception. President Jimmy Carter stood at 32 percent approval at this point in his presidency.

Of course, everything could change. House Democrats emphasize the worn, but accurate, adage that "a year is a lifetime in politics." But right now, the path to a Democratic House in January 2013 is very narrow.

"Presidents who get re-elected don't have long coattails," Republican pollster Glen Bolger said. "That's if he wins. If he loses, that's much more problematic for the Democrats" seeking to take back the House.

Bolger noted that Americans, by and large, still liked Obama in 2010 even if they had doubts about his policies.

"Now they're not as supportive personally for him. It's a tough proposition to see how Democrats take back the House," he said.

Israel said he wasn't promising anyone that his party would win the House back, but he told Roll Call, "By every standard, we have placed it in play."

Despite the economy, and the country's displeasure with the president, Democrats see some bright spots one year out. After a huge victory in 2010, Republicans have many seats to defend.

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