Van Hollen warns Republicans: Don’t pop those champagne bottles yet

Democratic campaign chief Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) accused Republicans of "already popping the champagne bottles" ahead of the November election and reiterated his confidence that Democrats would keep their majority in the House.

Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, declared Friday that "reports of the House Democrats' demise are greatly exaggerated."

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He argued that Republican confidence about how many seats they’ll gain this fall is based on false assumptions about the level of Democratic turnout.

"The energy level is rapidly rising on the Democratic side," Van Hollen said. "Most of the activity in these campaigns will take place in the next nine and a half weeks."

But an August Gallup poll showed Republicans were twice as enthusiastic than Democrats about the election. The poll found 46 percent of Republicans said they were "very enthusiastic" about voting, while only 23 percent of Democrats said the same.

And in Florida on Tuesday, 1.25 million Republicans cast ballots in the GOP gubernatorial primary, while fewer than 909,000 Democrats voted in the Democratic Senate primary even though both races were competitive, according to The New York Times. In addition, Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio collected more votes than all the Democrats on the other side combined.

An increasing number of Democratic party faithful have grown worried that the November elections will cost the party more seats than previously feared, and Republicans appear more bullish about taking back the majority in the House.

Over the past week, the GOP has trumpeted polling that indicates a much broader playing field in 2010 than many previously believed, and appears confident the party's candidates can put seats once considered safe for Democrats in play this fall.

Van Hollen pushed back against that narrative Friday in an appearance at the National Press Club, telling reporters it is "very clear that Democrats will retain their majority" in November.

The House Democratic campaign chief has consistently argued his party will keep its majority this cycle even while acknowledging that the president’s party tends to lose seats in midterm elections. Republicans need 39 seats to retake the House.
 
Unlike 1994, when Republicans gained a majority in the House for the first time in decades, Van Hollen said Democratic candidates will not get caught flat-footed this November. "No one is going to be surprised this time," he predicted.

He said the party's candidates will continue to paint the 2010 midterm election as a choice between "forward-looking" Democratic policies or a return to Bush-era economic policies that "resulted in catastrophic job losses and brought our economy to the brink of collapse."

But Republicans are banking on the slow economic recovery swinging voters their way in November.

A spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Friday Democrats are worried about their record on job creation.

“Rep. Van Hollen and his gang of Washington Democrats are desperate because they can’t escape their job-killing record, and the American people have soundly rejected their agenda of tax hikes and more wasteful spending,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement. “Our country doesn’t need more partisan spin, it needs grown-up leaders willing to stop the spending spree and tax hikes to create jobs.”

Van Hollen also painted a picture of Republican candidates in key swing districts as "to the far right of the political spectrum," and predicted they would prove "not a good fit for our moderate swing districts."

Still, Van Hollen acknowledged the environment is a politically challenging one for Democrats, noting that the party has a lot of ground to defend. Much of the gains for House Democrats in the '06 and '08 elections came in centrist to conservative districts, many of which had been long held by Republicans.

But he pointed to polling that shows voters more trustful of Democrats than Republicans and said the internal polling he has seen from Democratic congressional campaigns doesn't paint the same picture that Republicans have been pushing.

"I'm not suggesting that the American people are bullish on either party," said Van Hollen. "What I am suggesting is that they have got more confidence in Democrats than Republicans."

Van Hollen also took a shot at GOP recruiting efforts, singling out the result of Tuesday's Republican primary in Arizona's 8th Congressional District as an example of Tea-Party backed candidates triumphing over more mainstream Republicans.

In that race, Republican Jesse Kelly won the right to face Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) over the GOP establishment-backed candidate, former state Sen. Jonathan Paton. Giffords is a top target this cycle.

On Thursday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who heads recruiting efforts for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Democrats are in "panic mode" over their prospects in November, and predicted as many as 80 seats are in play this fall.