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Dems Expect to Gain a 'Whole Bunch of Seats'

The two Democratic congressional campaign chiefs made clear today that they expect the party to gain significant ground in both the House and Senate on Election Day, paving the way for Democrats to team up with a potential President Barack Obama next year to make fundamental public policy changes.

In a press briefing, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) exuded confidence, bordering on cockiness, that their respective organizations were on the march to victory in November.

"We expect to pick up a whole bunch of seats," Schumer said. "I know you'll ask me, 'Can we get to 60?' I'd say it's very difficult, given the math, but not out of the question. I would have said the same thing two years ago if you would have asked me, 'Can you get six seats in the Senate?' 100 days before the election. ... We do expect to pick up a significant number of seats."

Schumer allowed that the news wasn't all good, but even the supposedly negative side of the ledger could actually be seen as a plus for Democrats.

"The bad news is ... this is the reddest map in a very long time," Schumer said, pointing out that most of the seats Democrats are trying to pick up are in GOP-favored regions like the Deep South, the Great Plains and the Mountain West. Only in Maine, Minnesota and Oregon are Democrats fighting in real blue states. Of course, Democrats are playing in enemy territory precisely because so many GOP-held seats are in danger.

Schumer helpfully provided a taxonomy for breaking down the current slate of Senate races, assigning 16 of them to three specific categories -- 1) Democrats are currently ahead; 2) The two sides are even or close; and 3) Democrats can win if the wind is at their backs. Schumer's three tiers:

1) Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico, Alaska
2) Oregon, Minnesota, Mississippi, Kentucky, Maine, North Carolina
3) Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Georgia

Schumer's list, particularly in the third category, includes some real reaches for Democrats. Van Hollen echoed that theme. "The news is very positive, and yet at the same time we are moving into redder territory than we ever have before," he said.

Why will Democrats win? Schumer advanced a theory that this is a "tectonic plate election," as 1932 and 1980 were, where voters aren't just responding to one particular event or circumstance but have fundamentally altered their views of what they want from the government and elected officials. Schumer argued that voters want a "stronger government" and are more focused on Democratic issues like the economy and health care than GOP issues like national security and family values.

And if Democrats do make big gains in the House and Senate, and Barack Obama captures the White House, what kind of changes can voters expect from a government fully-controlled by Democrats? Schumer predicted that under that scenario, we would see fewer troops in Iraq, lower gas prices and a road to recovery from the housing crisis.

As he has in the past, Van Hollen warned against "irrational exuberance" on the part of his fellow Democrats, and cautioned that outside groups like Freedom's Watch could help the GOP compensate for the National Republican Congressional Committee's relative lack of cash. Still, Van Hollen emphasized that "the big story is that we're in offense."

In the 2006 cycle, Van Hollen said, the DCCC spent $70 million on 47 House races, 40 of which where Democrats were on offense and just seven on defense. This cycle, Van Hollen estimated that as many as 75 seats were in play, with Democrats on offense in roughly two-thirds of them.

"We will pick up seats in the next election," Van Hollen predicted. "Even our colleagues on the other side recognize that."

By Ben Pershing  |  July 23, 2008; 4:14 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , Dem. Leaders  
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