The House GOP's expectations game

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Republicans are trying to downplay expectations for their "Drive to 245" campaign to expand their House majority in Tuesday's midterm elections.

Only about 30 races are considered competitive this cycle, and the GOP needs a net gain of 11 seats in order to reach their goal of a 245-member House majority.

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Republicans say that even pick-ups in the high single digits will amount to a successful Election Night for them even if they don't reach the National Republican Congressional Committee's (NRCC) goal. 

"If we got close to double digits, we'd consider that a really good night. Nine would really be huge for us," said a Republican strategist involved with House races. "If we don't hit the 'Drive to 245,' we don't see that as falling short."

Of course, downplaying expectations now when Republicans are expected to make gains in the House and Senate would make achieving their originally stated goal look like an even better accomplishment. 

"Rule number one in politics is under-sell and over-deliver," GOP strategist Ford O'Connell said.

The NRCC's "Drive to 245" was largely intended as a slogan for Republicans to help keep members and donors' attention on House races even though control of the chamber is not in contention this year. Instead, donors and activists have been paying the most attention to Senate and governor's races in 2014.

A majority of 245 would also be the most House seats the Republican party has controlled since after World War II.

The NRCC is also highlighting the fact that the relatively few House races are in contention leave the party with few opportunities to expand the majority.

"We went into this cycle with President Obama determined to reinstall Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, but by staying on offense, Republicans are poised to hold off this threat and add to our majority in what is one of the smallest House playing fields in decades," NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. 

Still, the election results could have implications for NRCC Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.). 

Reps. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and Roger WilliamsRoger WilliamsSmall Business Week: celebrate business owners, don't break them GOP campaign chief: We won’t lose the House Texan running for GOP leadership spot MORE (R-Texas) have both indicated they want to run for NRCC chairman for the 2015-2016 cycle. Williams is currently the NRCC's national finance chairman, while Schock has been actively raising money and campaigning on colleagues' behalf this cycle.

Some Republicans are frustrated that the NRCC has lagged behind the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in fundraising despite being in the majority. The NRCC has raised about $125 million this election cycle, compared to the DCCC's $163 million.

Walden nonetheless still has the support of party leaders and claims to have most of the House GOP behind him. The NRCC notes that Walden has raised over $2 million and traveled to 35 states for more than 100 House Republican lawmakers and candidates.

"I don't think the matter of a few seats one way or another is going to do much in the way of swaying opinions," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former NRCC chairman. "We all know it's going to be tough to get there [to 245], since there just aren't that many seats in play."

Cole noted that gaining more than eight seats would essentially give back Republicans the majority they had after the 2010 elections after Democrats made gains last cycle on President Obama's reelection coattails.

"Anything above eight is a net gain," Cole said.

But some Democrats aren't buying that Republicans are truly scaling back their expectations of reaching the goal of 245. 

"I think it's hard for them to claim anything short of their goal as a good night, given the climate favoring them and the outside money pouring in for them," said a Democratic strategist working on House races. "The Republicans who are dialing back the 'Drive to 245' goal are part of Operation Save Greg Walden's Job." 

Democratic strategists see as many as eight to fifteen seats going to Republicans on Election Night. That's a higher figure than Republican strategists are predicting a few days out from Tuesday, but Democrats, too, are trying to set expectations and prepare their members and supporters for the worst. 

"I would not be shocked if there are double digit losses," said Democratic strategist Doug Thornell. "It's a challenging environment. If Democrats can limit losses to single digits, it’ll largely be due to smart decisions made by the DCCC to protect incumbents. They’ll be able to live with that given the swirling head winds they are facing."

Even with scaled-back expectations, Republicans still anticipate an overall positive outcome on Election Night, especially compared to Democrats who may be in danger of losing the Senate.

While campaigning in Iowa this week, Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE (R-Ohio) said he was looking toward a "big victory."

"It's all about the phone calls, all about the door-knocking, and it's all about winning this election. We can do this," BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE said at a stop on Tuesday for House hopeful Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Davenport, Iowa. "Seven more days, and guess what? We're gonna have a big victory."

- Scott Wong contributed.

 

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