This time around, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman (DCCC) Steve Israel (N.Y.) isn’t making any bold predictions about how many House seats his party may win this November, unlike his GOP counterpart.
Even mired with an unpopular president, a still-sagging economy and a spate of recent recruitment failures for his committee, Israel sounded an optimistic tone and touted what his party does best — data and voter targeting — as Democrats’ antidote to a difficult political climate.
“Let’s talk as we get deeper into [the election] cycle, but right now I still believe it’s too early to say what victory is,” he told reporters gathered at a Capitol Hill row house on Wednesday.
Israel said predictions from National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) that the GOP would pick up a dozen seats were him “showboating," and that Walden "can spend all his time looking in his crystal ball," while Israel plans to focus on the basic elements of campaigning.
“It’s useless to do what the NRCC did and predict and fantasize and prophesy,” he said. “My job is to do the fundamentals — raise the money, establish the message, mobilize the field, deploy resources so that you can win elections — rather than predicting whether you’re gonna win or lose elections."
Israel renewed focus coincides with rough stretch for House Democrats. They lost a last-minute and highly-touted recruit in a top Florida House race, in part due to a failure to properly vet him, and party operatives have to scramble to fix Rep. John Conyers’s (D-Mich.) failure to make the ballot because a number of his signatures were disqualified.
Democrats need 17 seats to win the majority, a tall order for any election year and one that’s particularly difficult during midterms, when the party in the White House typically loses seats.
And President Obama’s deep unpopularity has added to Democrats’ woes. When asked, Israel wouldn’t name any Democrats who planned to campaign with the president.
"Every Democrat makes their own choices, their own decisions," he said.
NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato pointed to that comment as evidence of just how tough Democrats have it this year.
“Steve Israel has never been one to shy away from bold predictions. The fact that he’s afraid to say whether his candidates will campaign with President Obama tells you everything you need to know about how bad the political climate is for House Democrats, and Israel knows that better than anyone else,” he said.
Last cycle, Democrats made the “Drive for 25,” the magic number they needed to regain the House majority, a central part of their push. In the end they picked up eight House seats but fell far short of cutting into Republicans’ gains.
This week, Republicans seemed to draw inspiration from Democrats’ 2012 campaign, unveiling their “Drive for 245” as they try to add a dozen new members to their already 34-seat majority.
On Wednesday, Israel said Democrats are hopeful about the results from an extensive polling project commissioned by the DCCC to plan its message for the midterms and combat voter apathy.
The committee commissioned four major Democratic polling firms to conduct research across 67 congressional districts and 16 focus groups, and while he said the findings confirmed the difficulties ahead, he was optimistic.
“We have a strategic challenge that quickly becomes a major strategic opportunity,” he said of the findings.
The polling found that though Democrats are running about even with Republicans in a generic ballot, Democrats are “decisively winning on every single economic priority” with both base and persuadable voters, which Israel said offers the party an opportunity in November.
Israel outlined a series of messages that he said will galvanize persuadable and base voters this fall. He said Democrats will focus on the idea of the “self-interested Republican Congress,” and that swayable voters are motivated by the idea of GOP lawmakers more interested in “perks” than work.
With female voters, Israel said Democrats can “absolutely galvanize young women and young voters” with a focus on choice, pay equity and specifically the Violence Against Women Act.
With drop-off voters, those reliable Democrats who don’t go to the polls in a midterm year, Israel said the party will focus on “messages that connect the personal and the pocketbook.” Specifically, drop-off voters would be more likely to vote, the polling showed, if they felt their vote would ensure big corporations pay their fair share of taxes, would help working families make ends meet, and would create jobs at home.
For Hispanic voters, Israel said the economy resonates strongly, and that GOP opposition to an increase in the minimum wage is an “albatross around the necks of Republicans” among the growing bloc.
But Israel said the broader Democratic message isn’t likely to change.
“The next six months is going to be about who’s got your back,” he said. “Democratic candidates’ priorities will be about strengthening the middle class, versus the Republican priorities, which have focused on favoring special interests and shifting the burden to the middle class.”
This post was updated at 4:21 p.m.