Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the strength of individual candidates will help her party outperform expectations in the upcoming midterms.
“Pundits are wildly misinterpreting or over interpreting,” the Florida Democrat said, specifically responding to a projection published by the Washington Post that gives Republicans an 86 percent chance of taking control of the Senate.
“Models don’t elect candidates. Voters do," she said, speaking at a Thursday morning event organized by centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. Wasserman Schultz predicted Democrats would retain a majority in the Senate and pick up seats in the House — although she stopped short of predicting that they would gain the 17 seats needed to capture the majority. Explaining her reasoning, Wasserman Schultz said the midterm election will be driven by individual campaigns and she believes a strong Democratic candidate pool will help the party outperform expectations.
“If you're putting a premium on polls, the polls we're ahead in are the ones that matter most: head to heads of the candidates," she said. "There's not a generic candidate on the ballot."
In the Senate, Wasserman Schultz pointed to what she said are strong campaigns being run by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; and Kay Hagan, D-N.C..
Asked for House candidates who are running campaigns likely to outperform expectations in districts where Democrats hope to gain seats, Wasserman Schultz named Pete Aguilar in California's 31st District, Aimee Belgard in New Jersey's 3rd District, and Gwen Graham in Florida's 2nd District. Aguilar's race is rated Leans Democratic, Belgrad's race is rated Tilts Republican, and Graham's race is rated Leans Republican by the Rothenberg Report/Roll Call .
Wasserman Schultz also emphasized two issues that she thinks will help Democrats appeal to voters: the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the Affordable Care Act.
The Hobby Lobby decision, she said, will increase turnout among women voters who she thinks will come out to support Democrats.
"I’ve spent most of my life with a part of a generation [of women] who really have been able to take their rights for granted. ... They’ve awoken a sleeping giant," she said.
On the Affordable Care Act, Wasserman Schultz predicted political backlash from constituents who have newly received coverage under the law may force Republicans to avoid the issue.
"There’s a reason Republicans haven’t put up as many votes to repeal it," she said. "Voters are going to use healthcare reform based on how it affects them. There are millions of voters who are going to say I am better off today … certainly than I would be if Republicans were allowed to take it away."
In a written response, National Republican Committee Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski said, "We have had more staff in the field working on Congressional and gubernatorial elections than ever before and are taking these elections very seriously because the GOP has an opportunity to talk to a lot of American voters about the Democrats’ brand of government and how their mismanagement and overreach has impacted our everyday lives."