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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.

Under what he said was his most pessimistic take on the race for the House, Israel did the math to get to 25 Democratic victories in districts across the country. He saw 10 pickups in GOP-held seats won by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and by Obama in 2008, along with 15 pickups in GOP-held Obama districts that President George W. Bush won in 2004. But, in what he called his pessimistic scenario, he said most Democratic Members would have to hold on to their seats. "It means we don't have a margin of error with our incumbents," Israel said.

The DCCC outraised the NRCC by almost a 2-to-1 margin in September; it also outraised the NRCC in the third quarter and overall year-to-date. House Democrats pulled in a huge number of small-donor donations over the past few months, part of the reason they posted such stellar fundraising numbers.

The DCCC has repeatedly underscored the fact that it has 60 "strong" candidates in GOP-held and open-seat districts. National Democrats highlight candidates such as Arkansas state Rep. Clark Hall, a farmer who is taking on freshman Rep. Rick Crawford (R) in the rural 1st district. They say candidates such as Hall who fit the district and expand the map may begin to put enough seats in play to take back the House.

The DCCC has also recruited heavily among previous candidates, who they see as "battle-tested." One top recruit is former Rep. Dan Maffei, who is taking on vulnerable freshman Rep. Ann-Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.).

In similar districts across the country, Democrats have begun to hack out a path to win 25 seats.

The problem for them is the NRCC has strong challenger candidates as well. And some of them are also battle-tested, such as Matt Doheny, who is taking a second shot at vulnerable Rep. Bill Owens in New York. Members like Owens are part of the biggest hurdle Democrats face in retaking the House: It will be impossible to hold every seat.

Democrats feel they have the right messaging for the cycle.

They expect to continue hammering the fact that many GOP House candidates support a plan "to end Medicare" while "preserving tax breaks for millionaires, billionaires and Big Oil," or some variation thereof. They will also work to paint vulnerable GOP Members as extreme.

Democratic pollster Dave Beattie said voters are turned off by extremism.

"Democrats and Republicans are going to be fighting for voters that hate both parties right now, [that] think both parties in Washington are out of touch, aren't getting things done and aren't listening to their concerns," he explained. "I think that extremism on both sides will be punished."

But the GOP has a strategy of its own: Obama. For House Republicans, the president has the added advantage of being on every ballot next November.

The decennial redistricting process is not expected to fundamentally change the balance of the election, with both Democrats and Republican picking up and losing seats because of map redraws.

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