Boston, Mass–The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hoped to capture some of the party’s optimism about the presidential race by briefing reporters Monday on the prospects for a take-back of the House. “We only need a breeze, but a ‘perfect storm’ is building,” the presentation asserted. The committee chairman, Rep. Robert Matsui, tried to make the case that Bush’s weaknesses and Kerry’s strengths have called into question last year’s assumption that the House was beyond the Democrats’ grasp this year. It was a struggle.
Matsui believes that Democrats are helped by recent polling showing that 55 percent of the public wants a “change” in the country’s direction and he sees a parallel with 1994 in that the public recognizes that the party in control is responsible for their dissatisfaction. He allows that the selection of John Edwards didn’t affect the polls, but believes it energized an already-”intense” base. Given what he sees as a favorable political environment for his party, the boldest prediction Matsui ventured was, “I won’t predict we’ll win, but I won’t say we’ll lose.”
The Republican committee has raised twice the amount of their Democratic counterparts, but the parties now have roughly the same money on hand. Matsui sees the parity of his 18.5 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s 20.2 million as “critical.” But, Republicans point out that they haven’t yet tapped their members to come to the aid of their party, and expect to raise another $16 million from incumbents who want to remain in the majority. However, Republicans are reconciled to being outspent in all their races this year owing to the unprecedented involvement of liberal 527 groups spending tens of millions on behalf of Democratic candidates.
Both parties’ committees will be involved in about 30 races, including opportunities in open seats, and coming to the aid of vulnerable incumbents. In 2002, there were 53 open seats and Republicans took 32 of them. This year, there are 35 open seats, 14 held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans. Matsui identified about 5 open GOP seats as opportunities for Democrats. Republicans are confident they’ll hold some of these. While Matsui admits that reapportionment in Texas “hurt us a little bit,” he is encouraged that some of his Democratic candidates have out-raised their GOP opponents. That is not the case with the incumbent face-offs where veteran Democratic members Charles Stenholm and Martin Frost have been significantly out-raised by the Republicans. A senior GOP campaign aide confidently predicts that Republicans will net five seats in Texas this year.
Finally, Matsui highlighted what he saw as promising challenges to about a dozen incumbent Republicans. But, some of them, like Rep. Clay Shaw in Florida, aren’t even on the GOP’s watch list. Others, like Anne Northup in Kentucky, are strong campaigners who always face tough races.
It’s easy to see why Rep. Matsui resisted the temptation to predict a Democratic sweep in November. There will have to be lots more Housecleaning before Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female Speaker of the House.