Van Hollen Confident Democrats Will Retain Majority

Posted August 27, 2010 at 12:19pm

Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is confident Democrats will retain the majority in Congress on Nov. 2, despite the GOP’s optimism about their party’s prospects.

“Congressional Republicans inside the Beltway are already popping the champagne bottles and say that they are going to seize control of the United States Congress,” Van Hollen told reporters on Friday in a speech at the National Press Club. “It is a premature celebration. And I can assure that you that despite the Washington summer political chatter, reports of the House Democrats’ demise are greatly exaggerated.”

Van Hollen’s reasoning centered on three arguments: Americans want to “continue moving forward” and not return to the economic policies of President George W. Bush; GOP candidates “emerging from primaries across the country are on the far right of the political spectrum” and do not fit the districts they are running in; and that “campaigns do matter, and Congressional Democrats have been preparing for what we knew would be a very tough cycle.”

Van Hollen, in his second tour as chairman of the DCCC, also took issue with those who are comparing 2010 to 1994. That year, Republicans catapulted back into power by picking up 54 House seats and eight Senate seats. While President Barack Obama’s approval ratings continue to fall and Republicans hold the lead in generic polling, Van Hollen pointed to recent surveys that show Democrats remain the more trustworthy party.

“In 1994, the American people saw congressional Republicans as a viable alternative to the Democrats,” he said. “The polls today indicate that is simply not the case.”

In response to the speech, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said no matter what Van Hollen says, “They know the dam is about to break.”

“Chris Van Hollen can try to spin it all he wants, but the fact remains that now even senior strategists within his own party are openly admitting that Nancy Pelosi’s grip on the Speaker’s gavel is loosening by the day,” Spain said.

When asked, Van Hollen, who also serves as Assistant to the Speaker, said it was appropriate for some Democrats in swing districts to prove their independence by running against leadership, as some are doing.

“The job of a Member of Congress is to represent their constituents,” he said. He added that unlike Republicans, “We have a spectrum of ideological and philosophical views.”

Conversely, Republicans are nominating candidates, such as Jesse Kelly in the Tucson-based 8th district of Arizona, who do not fit their districts, Van Hollen said. Kelly, an Iraq War veteran with tea party support, upset party favorite Jonathan Paton, a former state senator, in Tuesday’s primary.

Kelly, Van Hollen said, “believes in privatizing Social Security and takes a hard-line, right view. And you’re seeing that same thing play out in other parts of the country.”

Van Hollen also criticized the former GOP Members who are running again.

“In other instances you’re seeing Republican candidates who are simply retreads,” he said. “People like Tim Walberg, people like Steve Chabot, people like Steve Pearce. People who had their hands on the driving wheel along with the Bush administration, and were co-drivers of that economic policy.”

Van Hollen has seen internal Democratic polling that refutes numerous Republican surveys showing Democratic incumbents in trouble. He said the GOP polls underestimate Democratic turnout. But “It doesn’t refute that we have a lot of close races,” he said.

He pointed to the special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th district in May, when Democrat Mark Critz beat Republican businessman Tim Burns following the death of Democratic Rep. John Murtha, as proof Democrats are enthusiastic about voting this cycle and capable of winning a swing district.

But for all of Van Hollen’s optimism, he also tried to manage expectations, and emphasized that incumbents and challengers need to run good campaigns.

“These will be close elections,” he said. “A lot of them will be decided at the margins.”