New York is a bellwether that will show whether Republicans keep majority control of the U.S. House in November’s election or if Democrats find a way to take over, said the leader of Democrats’ campaign committee.
Democrats think they can beat Staten Island Republican Michael Grimm, under indictment on tax charges, as well as Tom Reed, whose upstate district stretches from Ithaca to Lake Erie. They also are targeting Chris Gibson in the Hudson Valley.
Three incumbent New York Democrats are vulnerable -- Tim Bishop on Long Island, Sean Patrick Maloney in the Hudson Valley and Dan Maffei in Syracuse.
“New York, we have three on defense, three on offense, and so that is a true pivot point,” Representative Steve Israel said in an interview at Bloomberg News in New York.
Israel, a New York Democrat, is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which seeks to elect party members to the House. Other pivotal states include California, Illinois and Florida, he said.
Democrats hold 199 seats, and they need 218 for a majority of the 435-member House of Representatives. To get there, they would have to sweep the toss-up races and oust several Republican incumbents, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report’s House race ratings.
Republicans, who hold 233 seats, are favored to keep control of the House by Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election analysis website run by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Four of the six New York races identified by Israel are rated as “lean Democratic,” according to the Cook Political Report. Those are the three held by Democrats and Grimm’s Staten Island district. The other two New York races targeted by Democrats, now held by Republicans, are rated “lean Republican.”
In addition to those races, Democrats also are defending a seat, considered a toss-up, currently held by Bill Owens, who is retiring.
House Democrats are off to a strong fundraising start, raising $10.3 million in March -- a record for that month -- with $40.2 million in the bank. Their Republican counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, raised $9.9 million over the same period and has $31.2 million.
Those numbers may not tell the whole story. Israel said outside groups that back Republicans, including Americans for Prosperity, funded by brothers Charles and David Koch, have outspent Democrats and their allied outside groups in races from Arizona to West Virginia.
Democrats have responded by running ads aimed directly at the Koch brothers, the fifth- and sixth-richest people in the world with a combined net worth of more than $102 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The intent is to make viewers skeptical about Koch-funded ads, and “skepticism becomes inoculation,” Israel said.
Israel said Democrats will counter House Republicans’ repeated efforts to repeal or limit the 2010 health-care law, known as Obamacare, by pointing out that Republicans haven’t voted for an alternative since they took control of the chamber in 2011.
Most voters in swing districts prefer to change the health-care law instead of repealing it, giving Democrats in those districts an advantage, he said.
“That’s going to be a major frame in our messaging going forward,” Israel said.
Republican assertions that President Barack Obama’s administration misled the public on its response to the 2011 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, won’t factor into the swing races, Israel said. “These are political stunts designed to animate the Republican base,” he said.
Republicans have a structural advantage in House elections. After winning state legislative and gubernatorial races in the 2010 election, they were able to draw congressional district lines favorable to the party.
In House Speaker John Boehner’s home state of Ohio, Republicans hold a 12 to 4 advantage in House seats although Obama carried the state in 2012.