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Van Hollen: Don't Pop the Champagne Yet

Republicans are scrambling to regroup in the wake of three special election losses and continued atrocious poll data, while Democrats appear buoyant and optimistic at the prospect of gaining significantly more House seats in November. And that makes Chris Van Hollen nervous.

Part of the Marylander's job as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman is to set expectations for his party, and a new memo from Van Hollen being sent to Democratic House members today (you can read the whole memo here) makes clear that he wants his colleagues to stay grounded as he surveys a playing field that could include "more than 75 seats in play." Van Hollen's primary message: All indicators appear positive for the party right now, but they may not stay that way.

"We must not allow our funding lead over the NRCC, our early preparation, our successful recruiting efforts, and most importantly, our special election wins to lull us into a false sense of complacency," Van Hollen writes. "Historically, following a wave election like 2006, the majority party loses seats. We can beat history, but only if we maintain our political momentum, ensure we have the resources to win, and stay focused on our agenda of change."

Van Hollen emphasized that voters often look for a correction after one party or the other sweeps an election, as Democrats did in 2006, so more huge gains for the party would be an aberration. "If we hold the three seats we just won in special elections we will have broken the historical pattern," he writes. Van Hollen also reminds members that the party won two GOP-held seats in special elections during the 2004 cycle, but still lost seats that November.

And while many Republicans have chalked up their losses in Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois to the national mood and antipathy to the GOP, Van Hollen makes the opposite case (and in the process, gives the DCCC credit). "It would be a mistake to take the wrong message from Democrats' special election wins," Van Hollen writes. "Democratic special election wins were in large part a result of recruiting strong candidates and our focus, preparation, and organization."

Translation: Fatigue from the Bush administration, a poor economy, rising gas prices and other national environmental factors won't carry more Democrats across the finish line in November. Democratic candidates will need the right message, strong research and field capabilities -- which, Van Hollen brags, the DCCC certainly has -- as well as lots of cash.

The party can't possibly afford to throw a million dollars at every seat the way it was able to do during those special elections. To drive that point home, Van Hollen cites a few examples of particularly expensive media markets with potentially competitive seats "out of the nearly 50 strong Democratic challengers running in Republican-held seats and 32 Democratic Members in challenging seats to defend. As we get closer to November, we will have more than 75 seats in play."

As he has repeatedly in the past, Van Hollen warns that conservative groups such as Freedom's Watch will be big players on the financial front, so Democrats should not feel safe just because the DCCC has significantly outraised its GOP counterpart. "As we saw again in the most recent special elections, our main competition is Republicans' outside groups, not the NRCC," he writes.

Van Hollen's memo is designed to give members some reading material during their week-long Memorial Day recess, but it's also targeted at the media, part of an effort to tamp down blossoming expectations of a huge Democratic sweep in the fall. Mention the word "wave" to Democratic campaign operatives, and they grow queasy. Van Hollen hopes that members will feel the same way.

By Ben Pershing  |  May 22, 2008; 2:10 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , Dem. Leaders  
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House Democrats have a done a great job positioning themselves on domestic issues, as opposed to many House Republicans who still seem to be advocating essentially the same domestic issues they did a decade ago. It's almost like the Republican party is frozen in time on domestic issues, and it's not hard for voters to gravitate to Democrats. House Republicans strong stance on following through in Iraq should eventually be a strong plus for them as average Iraqi's are now openly critical of House Democrats schemes to abandon them, which virtually all Democrats in Congress voted for.

Posted by: Chris Baker | May 22, 2008 3:13 PM | Report abuse

How come there are so few comments to these WP blogs? Is anyone reading them?
The only problem the Dems face is their own fear of success. The economy, gas prices and Bush's utter failure of an administration are gifts to the Dems. Add to that a magnetic candidate like Barack Obama to rally around and they should be failproof.
But the Clintons seem determined to implode the party and give their supporters to Mclame. Help us Lord. Save us from ourselves.

Posted by: boredstiff | May 23, 2008 12:07 AM | Report abuse

Do you think John McCain got cornholed at the Hanoi Hilton?

Posted by: don | May 23, 2008 12:22 AM | Report abuse

Obama supporters never cease to amaze me. The Clintons " won't go away ..they'll implode the party " ....well tough love.

Hillary Clinton doesn't want to be Al Gore 2 !! She has the most votes if democracy prevails, and therefore the legitimate winner. The DNC selects Obama, will make him George Bush 2. Voters will not shamed twice. They will vote the other way or not vote at all. The Dems will pay for their foul up with this stupid , stupid rule. I'll never understand the rationale how any political party will adopt some stupid rule that under possible certain circumstances can come and backfire on them. This left a lot of voters ticked. The Dems are gonna have to endure a nail biter in November. Really stupid. I can't say stupid enough times to emphasize this. Stupid..stupid..stupid..

Posted by: Gus C | May 23, 2008 1:15 AM | Report abuse

Hey "Gus C", the Democrats made these "stupid rules" so the elite in their party will be able to choose the candidate. They don't really care what the voters want as long as they don't vote for a Republican.
As for you "don" we can all see you're mind is really focused on the important issues - hope you get out there and campaign for your boy.

Posted by: JimA | May 23, 2008 2:02 PM | Report abuse

John McCain got cornholed at the Hanoi Hilton?

Posted by: truth | May 27, 2008 7:59 PM | Report abuse

I have to guess that Gus C and Jim A are high school graduates who make less than $50,000 a year... or Republicans... or both.

Barack Obama has won more states, more elected delegates, and- in the states that followed the rules that Hillary Clinton's representatives happily endorsed and enforced- more popular votes It was ONLY when she realized that she could not muscle the supers into rescuing her the way they rescued Mondale in '84 that she started all this crap about a "popular vote" and including Florida and Michigan in vote counts.

The United States has never elected a president on the basis of a popular vote nor has any party named a nominee on that basis. The founders were the first ones to institute these "stupid, stupid" rules. If you really believe that's the answer, then make your case for a single nationwide primary that ignores state lines and then a presidential election that does the same... can't wait to see how much luck you have with that one - "stupid, stupid, stupid."

Posted by: Larry McD | May 28, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Chris Baker's comment should read:
House Republicans' corrupt stance on continuing the monetary giveaway to corporations in Iraq while sacrificing the welfare of US troops and the US economy should eventually be a strong plus for them in the minds of moronic Repigs, who are incapable of comprehending reality.
Average Iraqis now hate the guts of Americans even more for our illegal occupation of their country than they did when they simply thought we were infidels, and Repig morons will continue to spin votes to leave Iraq as unpatriotic, meaning not in line with the incredibly self-serving and delusional Repig party doctrine.

Posted by: Querent | May 29, 2008 6:16 PM | Report abuse

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