With Democrats relegated to the minority in both chambers for the first time since 2006, the two top staffers at the party's House and Senate campaign arms charted a path back to the majority during an EMILY's List event Tuesday.
Tom Lopach, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Kelly Ward, who's holding the same position at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for a second straight cycle, have a similar goal — but starkly different odds of achieving it. In the House, where Democrats face the daunting task of picking up 30 seats to win the majority, Ward pointed to three crucial states.
"The path to victory in the House for Democrats runs through California, Illinois and New York," she said, all big states with a number of competitive races. The DCCC will have to protect incumbents in some of those races, but it also has several pickup opportunities.
All three are reliably Democratic in presidential elections, so House candidates will not have the benefit of a strong presidential air or ground campaign effort there. But, Ward pointed out, both Illinois and California have contested Senate races that will help drive turnout down ballot.
Ward also pointed to Arizona and Florida as states where House Democrats had pickup opportunities, as well as two seats in Nevada that Democrats are focused on. In those three states, which all have a significant number of Hispanic voters, the presidential race could help boost down-ballot Democrats.
"I think we're gonna pick up a lot of House seats," Ward said.
Ward and Lopach were speaking on a panel at a multi-day national conference to celebrate the 30th anniversary of EMILY's List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights. They spoke to a crowd of more than 100 women and a few men — a group that included former Florida congressional hopeful Alex Sink — in a long, narrow ballroom in the basement of the Washington Hilton.
In the Senate, Democrats have a somewhat easier lift. They need to pick up five Senate seats in 2016 to take the majority, and the numbers are in their favor: 24 of the 34 incumbents up for re-election are Republicans, including more than a half-dozen targets in states President Barack Obama has carried.
The two Democratic retirements so far this cycle have come in the solidly Democratic states of California and Maryland, which should have no effect on the fight for the majority.
Lopach pointed to Wisconsin, Illinois and New Hampshire as the three states he was "most excited" about. Other Democratic targets include Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"If I were going out [to work] on a race," Lopach said, "I'd go out on New Hampshire."
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