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DCCC's Van Hollen Assesses the Obama Effect

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of House Democrats' campaign arm, said Tuesday that if Hillary Rodham Clinton comes up short in her bid for the party's presidential nomination, she must do more than just "give lip service" in support of Barack Obama in the general election.

"She's going to have to get in there and work hard, tell her supporters how important it is, how high the stakes are here," Van Hollen said.

His comments, which were made as part of washingtonpost.com's PostTalk program, a series of interviews with political newsmakers, shed light on the real concerns that exist among party leaders about the potentially damaging fracture between backers of Clinton and Obama.

Although Van Hollen has maintained a studied neutrality in the presidential race as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, it was clear during the interview that he has given considerable thought to what effect having Obama at the top of the ticket would have on the battle for Congress.

Asked to cite specific districts where Obama's presence would help his candidates, Van Hollen mentioned Illinois's 10th district, where Dan Seals, an African American candidate, is pursuing a rematch against Rep. Mark Kirk (R) in the affluent northern Chicago suburbs. Van Hollen also ticked off a series of seats with substantial black populations, including North Carolina's 8th, Ohio's 1st and Virginia's 2nd.

In addition to his positive influence in Illinois and in districts with a large black population, Van Hollen also noted that Obama's ability to bring new voters and young people to the polls as an x-factor in any number of congressional seats.

"If Barack Obama is the nominee, you can expect to see a lot more people involved in these races than there were before," Van Hollen predicted. "That's the big wild card for Republicans. They can't plan on a conventional turnout scenario if Barack Obama is the nominee."

As for the congressional playing field, Van Hollen said that he saw 75 seats in play for the fall, the vast majority of which (50) are currently held by Republicans. He sought to downplay expectations that the field would grow in the wake of special election wins in GOP strongholds like Mississippi's 1st District and Louisiana's 6th. (For more on Van Hollen's thoughts on the congressional playing field, make sure to check out Ben Pershing's "Capitol Briefing" blog.)

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 27, 2008; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , House  
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