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What Really Happened in the House

Yes, as one DCCC release noted, House Democrats gained seats by winning a disproportionate number of close races and avoiding the ignominy of a net loss, which seemed possible a week before. (In fact, they may win all eight of the closest races, which shows just how close they were to a disastrous election cycle.)

But unless you think avoiding a worst-case scenario constitutes victory, there is no way to see last week’s results as anything close to a House Democratic success.

One Democratic press release on Nov. 9, “House Election 2012 Victory: by the Numbers,” offered a series of numbers to show how House Democrats allegedly reversed “the Tea Party wave.”

Included in the list were the number of Republican incumbents defeated in 2008 (14) and the number defeated last week (16). The clear intention of the release was to suggest that Democrats did better in 2012 than they did in 2008, a big Democratic year.

In fact, the DCCC did much better in 2008 than it did last week. There is almost no comparison. In 2008, Democrats gained 21 seats, giving them a total of 257 seats. Last week Democrats gained seven or eight seats, or a total of 200 or 201 seats in the House.

Part of the reason that Democrats defeated more Republican incumbents in 2012 than in 2008 was that, after the GOP wave of 2010 (when the party netted 63 seats), there were so many more Republican incumbents seeking re-election. Republican incumbent losses were relatively small in 2008 because so many Republican incumbents had lost two years earlier, in 2006.

Third, while the DCCC mocked the NRCC for the defeats of “top tier” candidates such as Ricky Gill in California, Mia Love in Utah and Tisei, the DCCC apparently forgot about the defeat of its own heavily hyped candidates who lost, including Christie Vilsack in Iowa, Val Demings in Florida and Jose Hernandez in California.

I certainly don’t blame the DCCC for failing to win back the House this year. Democrats never really had a chance to net 25 seats. I thought the committee’s independent expenditure ads were good, and though the Medicare and Ryan budget ads didn’t prove as effective as Democratic strategists hoped, hammering Republicans on those issues was a reasonable strategy.

So how should House Democrats feel about the 2012 elections? Relieved.

They should be relieved that they won most of the close races and that their gains weren’t even smaller. And they should be relieved that most of the attention was on the White House and the terrific night that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had, netting two more seats and expanding the party’s majority in the Senate.

Feeling relieved isn’t the same thing as feeling as if you were victorious. But it isn’t such a bad thing either.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).

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