House Democrats Lower Expectations, Offer 'Tea Party' Narrative

Rep. Steve Israel (left) was charged with overseeing Democratic efforts to win back House seats this cycle and make Rep. Nancy Pelosi Speaker again. But heading into Election Day, the party is expected to net only a handful of seats. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

For two years, Democratic leaders have focused on winning the 25 seats necessary for their party to take back the House. But with analysts predicting disappointing results for the number of seats they will pick up in Tuesday's elections, aides and party operatives are privately lowering expectations about the net gain.

In internal conversations with Democratic lawmakers, leaders are “definitely lowering the expectations,” a senior Democratic House aide said.

The party is expected to net a single-digit number of seats, far from the 25 they need to reclaim control of the chamber.

Democratic aides speaking on background said the elections results will likely be a bitter disappointment, if not a surprise for some. Most Members and professional operatives realized long ago that winning back the House was not in the cards, and one source described complaints that top officials, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), were being unrealistically rosy in their public statements about the state of the races.

As recently as mid-September, Pelosi maintained the chamber was in play, saying Democrats had an “excellent chance to take back the House.” And Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said just last week he believed

, saying Democrats had an “excellent chance to take back the House.” And Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said just last week he believed Democrats would win back control of the House, a completely unrealistic goal given the state of the competitive battleground map in the elections' closing weeks.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending the final 24 hours framing the elections as rolling back the “tea party tsunami” of 2010. The committee is also touting its perceived successes this cycle — the factors it describes as being "within the DCCC's control."

“Democrats have been on offense,” a DCCC memo said. “We outraised the [National Republican Congressional Committee] by more than $16 million despite being in the minority, we recruited a wide field of over 50 Red-to-Blue candidates, we stayed competitive on the air despite being outspent, and we mobilized an historic ground game, especially in 'orphan' states.”

A second missive sent today focused on Republicans who won election in 2010 as right-wing warriors, only to tack to the center in 2012 to win re-election.

“Regardless of whether they win or lose, the Tea Party of 2010 is over. They’ve been forced on defense in the message fight all cycle long, and now those who win will have done so by giving up on the Tea Party,” the memo said.

The observation may provide some solace to Democrats and their supporters, but it does not mask that Tuesday's election results are poised to disappoint. Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the DCCC, declined to offer a number of seats that he considered a victory on Election Day.

"If we worry about the final numbers before the polls close, we wouldn’t be focused on winning races and that’s what is important,” Ferguson said.

The DCCC memo this morning outlined fundraising, recruitment and mobilization metrics to make the case that Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) has presided over an effective operation, whatever the results on Election Day.

“We have outraised the NRCC by $16.2 million ($151.9 million to $135.7 million), despite being in the minority,” Israel said.

Helping propel the Democrats’ money haul is Pelosi, a powerhouse fundraiser without peer among Congressional Democrats.

The memo touted the candidates recruited by the DCCC as the “most diverse ever.”

It said the DCCC has spent $56.8 million on advertising in 49 districts, the DCCC has 326 staging locations open for get-out-the-vote efforts, and 910 field staff have helped place 15 million phone calls to voters and knocked on 3 million doors.

A number of Democrats who do not work for Israel praised his hard work as chairman. However, one aide said there was concern the DCCC did not do enough to defend moderates in tough re-election fights, instead appearing to focus on picking up new seats.