Democratic Campaign Chief Sees ‘Razor-Close’ Bid to Retake House

Representative Steve Israel, chairman of the Democrats’ House campaigns, said his party has a chance to reclaim the chamber in 2012 by playing on voters’ “buyer’s remorse” about majority Republicans and their plan to privatize Medicare.

Israel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the party’s recent upset victory in an upstate New York district long held by Republicans -- coupled with recent success raising money and recruiting candidates -- has created an opening for Democrats to score a 24-seat net gain needed to regain control next year.

“I can safely say that the House is in play,” Israel, 53, told reporters at a breakfast in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “We’re not going to be cocky. We’re not overconfident. We still have a long way to go, and it is still uphill.”

Still, he said there is a clear mathematical formula for Democrats to claw their way back to power. He projected his party would win at least eight of the 14 seats now held by Republicans in districts that voted for Democratic presidential candidates in 2008 and 2004, and at least 18 of the 47 districts that backed President Barack Obama four years ago after supporting Republican George W. Bush in 2004. That could give Democrats their needed margin of victory -- if they are able to protect virtually all of their incumbents.

“It’s going to be razor-close,” he said.

Hochul Swearing-In

Israel spoke hours before Democrat Kathy Hochul was to be sworn in at the U.S. Capitol to represent a Western New York district she won after spotlighting her opposition to the Republican budget blueprint that would transform the Medicare government health insurance program for the elderly into a voucher system subsidizing private medical coverage.

“It is clear that there is a sense of buyer’s remorse setting in,” Israel said. Independent voters who have backed Democrats in the past are rallying behind them again, he added, after “the Republicans rented them for one night in November of 2010.”

Republicans, who swept into power by scoring a net gain of 63 seats and tapping into Tea Party enthusiasm for spending cuts, announced a targeted effort today to defend 10 of their most vulnerable incumbents -- mostly freshmen, and all of them in districts that supported Obama in 2008.

‘Patriot Program’

Paul Lindsay, communications director for the Republicans’ House campaign committee, said the initial wave of the so-called “Patriot Program” would defend first-term Representatives Allen West of Florida, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, Pat Meehan and Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, Quico Canseco of Texas and Joe Heck of Nevada, as well as two lawmakers elected in 2010 after losing their seats in previous years: Representatives Charlie Bass of New Hampshire and Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

The group includes one veteran lawmaker, nine-term Representative Tom Latham of Iowa, a confidant of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio who has opted to challenge Democratic Representative Leonard Boswell after the state enacted a redistricting plan that merged his district with that of Republican Representative Steve King.

“The program is a rigorous, goal-oriented initiative that enables members to stay on offense as they build winning re-election campaigns,” Lindsay said in a statement.

He described the effort as Republicans’ attempt to control their destiny in “a challenging election” that will be shaped by factors over which they have no influence, including redistricting plans and the presidential contest.

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