Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is literally laughing off the suggestion House Democrats could lose their majority in the midterm elections.
In an interview with Roll Call Tuesday, the top House Democrat said her party would "definitely" retain control of the chamber and emerge from the November balloting with "much more than a simple majority."
That was a rosier view than the one offered last month by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), when he told an interviewer he would consider Democrats successful if they simply managed to outnumber Republicans after the elections.
The assessment comes as political forecasters hike their predictions of Democratic losses and begin to discuss the possibility — remote but real — that the party could actually lose enough seats to cost them the majority.
But Pelosi, Speaker since Democrats assumed House control in January 2007, also made clear she is gearing up for a tough midterm battle in which she intends to scrap for each of her incumbents.
"We will not be taken by surprise," she said emphatically, echoing a pledge her lieutenants have made to not repeat Democrats' mistake in 1994 when the GOP caught them napping amid a rising tide of voter anger and swept them from power. "I am not yielding one grain of sand. My responsibility is to protect and preserve my incumbents and that's what I intend to do I'm fighting for every seat."
Pelosi alluded to her own fundraising prowess — she had helped bank $21.3 million for House Democrats as of late last month, an internal fundraising tally showed — in making the case that her candidates would have all the resources they need. It's one category where Democrats have a commanding edge over Republicans, having stashed $16.7 million in cash on hand through the end of the year to $2.7 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP's campaign arm.
But Democrats have plenty of other headaches, among them the dragging talks on a health care overhaul they had hoped to see passed into law by now so they could start selling it as a landmark achievement.
The party's stunning upset loss in the special Senate race in Massachusetts scrambled those plans, forcing more tough negotiations on the issue and complicating House Democratic leaders' aim to carry a light legislative load as they look to focus on the elections.
Republican Scott Brown secured the seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and gave the GOP the power of 41 votes, enough to sustain a filibuster.
"We're still in our legislative mode in a very important way," said Pelosi, who at the end of last year, with a health care reform endgame in sight, declared herself "in campaign mode." She acknowledged Tuesday that lawmakers "have a lot of work to do before we go into the campaigns, and now sadly we have another campaign, with Mr. Murtha" — a reference to the yet-to-be-scheduled Special Election to succeed the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.)
And while the Democratic defeat in the Bay State reordered both the Senate and the calendar, Pelosi, a tough-minded political operator, said she is taking a "cold-blooded" approach to assessing the race and internalizing its lessons. "You cannot underestimate what happened but you can't overestimate it either. You have to weigh it," she said.
"What really went into this? And there's no question that an element of it was concern about the deficit and the rest."
To the extent the special election was a referendum on health care reform, Pelosi argued that voters in a state that already has near-universal coverage were concerned they would face new taxes on their plans under a provision the Senate bill.
"That was not a positive message," she said. "We don't have that in our House bill, so we don't have to defend that position."