House Democrats Regroup to Show United Campaign Front

Posted July 18, 2010 at 11:12am

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen acknowledged Sunday that the midterm elections may be viewed as a referendum on President Barack Obama’s first two years in office.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the Maryland Democrat insisted that House Democrats “know the White House is a strong ally,” in part because “the president and the White House know that they need a strong majority in the House and in the Senate in order to complete their agenda.”

“They also know that the day after the elections, it will be interpreted as a referendum on the president’s policies in the press, whether they like it or not,” Van Hollen said. “So we are on the same page.”

Democratic leaders have been working to downplay reports of tensions between House leaders and the administration following White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’ July 11 suggestion that Republicans could win control of the House in November.

Some angry rank-and-file House Democrats charged that the White House has not done enough to aid Members’ re-election campaigns, particularly in light of lawmakers’ efforts to pass politically volatile portions of Obama’s agenda, such as a health care overhaul and climate change legislation.

Van Hollen insisted that Obama “absolutely” was an asset to House Democrats on the campaign trail, saying that the president was “very clearly drawing distinctions” about “what the choices are for voters going forward.”

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) predicted on the same Sunday news show that Republicans would pick up “slightly over 40” seats and win a narrow majority in November.

Van Hollen accused Republicans of prematurely “popping the Champagne bottles,” and he expressed confidence that Democrats would beat back Republican attempts to win the House. “We have said all along this is going to be a very tough election … but we’ve also said, at the end of the day, we’re going to retain the majority in the House,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was similarly confident Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Democrats would maintain control of the House. “I don’t think we’re talking about a big loss” in November, the Maryland Democrat said.

He cited the victories of Democrats Bill Owens and Scott Murphy of New York and Mark Critz of Pennsylvania in special elections over the past year, during the height of debate over the health care overhaul and the aftermath of its enactment, as demonstrations of the party’s strength.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez predicted Democrats also would keep control of the Senate, which most experts do not view as in play, and cast the midterms as “a choice election” in which Republicans will be judged for championing failed economic policies.

“Our Republican colleagues who had their hands on the wheel and drove the car off the cliff, into the Grand Canyon in a huge crater, don’t want to take responsibility,” the New Jersey Democrat said on “Meet the Press.”

While Democrats are trying to tie Republicans to former President George W. Bush, particularly in terms of their economic policies, Republicans are attempting to paint Obama and Congressional Democrats as proponents of what Sessions called a “big-government agenda.”

“Today it’s about empowering government, and that is a mistake,” Sessions said, predicting big wins for Republicans in November.

“Change is in the air,” he said.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn declined while on “Meet the Press” to name the number of seats that he thought Republicans would win in November, but he predicted a strong year for the GOP, in part because independent voters were “fleeing the Democrats.”

The Texas Republican said voters were concerned about one-party rule and “see Republicans as the best bet” to provide “checks and balances.”