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Van Hollen Sees 60 Seats in Play, Roughly Partisan Parity

With President Bush's continued unpopularity, House Democrats now believe that the 2008 political environment will allow them to play as much offense against Republican incumbents as they have to play defense of their own seats.

According to a new memo from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, 25 GOP-held seats are now being targeted by Democrats with at least a handful more potentially in contested races. [Full memo below.]

At this point, Van Hollen has 29 "Frontline Democrats", those incumbents considered in tough races participating in a special fund-raising program. Two more incumbents, Reps. Nancy Boyda (D-Kansas) and Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), are in tough races but have opted to run campaigns independent of the DCCC's political operation.

Van Hollen's assessment stands recent political history on its head. After previous "wave" elections, the next election cycle usually washes many of the freshmen back out to the political seas. In 1996, for example, a dozen GOP freshmen lost their first re-election bid after winning in the 1994 wave. In 2006, 42 freshmen Democrats were elected, 30 of whom took Republican-held seats.

But, after the good news in the memo, comes the tough part: Members have to raise more money than ever before, meaning the $66 million spent on an independent-expenditure campaign in '06 is merely a floor for how much they will spend next year.

"The task at hand is formidable. Our recruitment successes coupled with our 31 Democrats in challenging districts means we will be competing in more than 60 districts," Van Hollen wrote.

Republicans disagree with Van Hollen's assessment that the playing field will be even, as they expect to make the 2008 congressional elections all about the Nancy Pelosi Congress and its achievements (or lack thereof, depending on your take). After the Washington Post-ABC News poll showed a 10-point drop in approval ratings for Democrats, House Republicans pounced and claimed it was the result of broken promises.

"Whether you're a conservative Republican, a liberal Democrat, or anything in between, it's clear that Democrats have broken virtually every promise they made to the American people on the campaign trail," said Brian Kennedy, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Van Hollen's memo did not address the sagging poll numbers for Congress, but it did spell out a theme of "change" for the 2008 election, signaling that they hope to make next year's elections still about Bush and his eight years in office.

"It is critical for our caucus and candidates continue to embody change. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo and it is imperative we continue to bring accountability back to Washington," Van Hollen wrote.

Here's the full memo:

TO: Democratic Colleagues

FROM: DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen

RE: Post-Recess Update

DATE: June 7, 2007

At the six month mark of the 2008 election cycle, the climate remains favorable for Democrats. Recruiting is going better than expected, and our Frontline members are well positioned for 2008. That being said, we face a new set of unique challenges this cycle which will require additional resources. The playing field has grown to more than 60 seats this cycle. In addition, the Presidential campaign, while helpful on many fronts, will also require us to run our own turnout operations in targeted districts. Finally, as a large majority of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction, it is critical for our Caucus and candidates continue to embody change. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo and it is imperative we continue to bring accountability back to Washington.


Our Frontline Members are off to quick and successful start. Thanks to their hard work, the work of the Caucus office and Democratic leadership, our Frontline Members have successfully implemented strategic legislative, press, and outreach plans.

Their official work and strong campaign organizations have helped deter many early top tier challenges. For example: Rob Simmons has passed on challenging Congressman Courtney (CT-02); Jeff Atwater has passed on challenging Congressman Klein (FL-22); and no Republicans have yet said they will challenge Congressman Mitchell (AZ-05) or Congressman Boswell (IA-03).

Nonetheless, we expect the Republicans to field a number of strong candidates, and we are prepared and organized to defend all 29 members of Frontline and other members facing tough challenges. We have a successful record of protecting Democrats - except for redistricting, only one Freshman Democrat has lost since 1996.


We already have more than 25 targeted districts with strong candidates filed, and we are confident that we will put into play more than 30 Republican seats this cycle. We remain focused on recruiting in districts where Republicans won by less than 10 percent, the eight Kerry districts held by Republicans, ethically challenged Members, and potential open seats.

We have had early success in expanding the playing field by recruiting strong challengers in seats that have not been traditional targets in recent elections. Some of these successes include:

Kay Barnes is challenging Sam Graves (MO-06). Barnes, the highly respected outgoing two term Mayor of Kansas City, has widespread bi-partisan appeal and was recently recognized by Republican Speaker of the Missouri House and Republican Senator Kit Bond for her work on revitalization and economic development of Kansas City.

John Boccierri is challenging Ralph Regula (OH-16). Boccierri, who declined to run for Congress last cycle, is an Iraq war veteran and is considered a rising star in the Ohio State Senate; he is also a friend and political ally of Governor Ted Strickland.

Kyle Foust is challenging Phil English (PA-03). Foust is an Erie County Councilman with a reputation as a leader who reaches across party lines to get things done for his constituents. Tom Meyers, a local labor attorney, is also considering challenging English. The English campaign is rightfully worried; despite outspending his opponent by 5 to 1, he barely won with 53 percent.

John Unger is challenging Shelly Moore Capito (WV-02). Unger is a well regarded State Senator with a great profile for the district. Unger is a humanitarian who has worked with Mother Theresa and with a children's' charity in Iraq. He launched his campaign last week at an event with Congressmen Mollohan and Rahall.

The Democratic Leadership and DCCC Recruitment Committee's hard work is a critical part of our recruiting successes. Thank you to Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, Whip Clyburn, and Chairman Emanuel. We need to also acknowledge the work and dedication of the DCCC's Recruitment Committee - led by Representative Artur Davis (AL) with Representatives Russ Carnahan (MO), Mike Doyle (PA), Rahm Emanuel (IL), Steve Israel (NY), Ron Kind (WI), Jim Matheson (UT), Betty McCollum (MN), Tim Ryan (OH), Adam Schiff (CA), Hilda Solis (CA) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL).


One example of where we're expanding the playing field is in the suburbs. Despite the Republican spin that Democrats can't win seats President Bush carried, the reality is that we are competing in and winning traditionally Republican seats, particularly in the suburbs. For instance, Representatives Hall (NY-19), McNerney (CA-11), and Perlmutter (CO-07), to name a few, all beat Republicans in suburban districts that President Bush won, and these seats continue to trend Democratic.

The suburbs are trending Democratic and Republicans continue to lose the suburban voters that once supported them. Since 1994, Democrats have made consistent gains in the suburbs, picking up 36 suburban seats - 11 suburban seats in 2006 alone. Our base now includes our traditional urban base, as well as smaller cities and the suburbs.

The suburban trend is continuing this cycle. Democrats have already won down ticket special elections this year in historically Republican areas in Delaware, Florida, and New Jersey.

We have recruited strong candidates running in suburban Republican districts, including Steve Driehaus (OH-02), Jim Himes (CT-04), and Linda Stender (NJ-07). We remain focused on recruiting strong candidates in suburban districts in Michigan, New Jersey, and other Republican districts where we have not played before.


The task at hand is formidable. Our recruitment successes coupled with our 31 Democrats in challenging districts means we will be competing in more than 60 districts. Increasing the playing field to more than 60 seats also increases the DCCC's challenges. Successfully meeting these challenges will take full Caucus participation.


The DCCC plans to invest a record amount of money in individual races this cycle. Last cycle, the DCCC's independent expenditure campaign spent $66.6 million. This cycle - with more than 60 seats in play - the DCCC will need much more to stay competitive.

As you plan your political participation this cycle, remember that an early investment in the DCCC, in our Frontline Members, and in our challengers shows Democrats' strength and is viewed as an early sign of our success.


We will not take Democratic turnout for granted. While the Presidential campaign will help in a number of seats, we are prepared to run our own field programs in our targeted districts. We have begun to assemble a field plan and team to meet this challenge.


2008 will be a change election. Suburban voters want to see progress being made toward ending the war in Iraq and increasing accountability in government.

The 2006 election was about Americans' deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. On nearly every issue, Americans were unhappy with the direction the President and Republican Congress were taking the country. Democrats won by being the agents of change, with a plan to take America in a New Direction.

The 2008 election must be about change and accountability. We will increase Americans' confidence in the Democratic Congress by continuing to fight to end the war in Iraq, keeping our pledge to change the way business is done in Washington, and tackling the kitchen table issues people care about - gas prices, college affordability, fiscal accountability, etc.

As we show Americans that we are bringing accountability back to government, the public's confidence in us will continue to grow, as will the chorus of leading conservative voices such as William F. Buckley and Bob Novak saying that Republicans are headed for electoral disaster in 2008.

By Paul Kane  |  June 7, 2007; 4:09 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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I believe Kerry won Perlmutter's seat in CO-7.

Posted by: Ryan | June 8, 2007 11:20 AM | Report abuse

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