The Democratic base is "unhappy," but the party won't repeat the mistakes that cost it control of the House in 1994, according to a top party strategist.

"We Democrats were asleep at the switch in 1994," strategist Harold Ickes said Thursday at a forum in Washington organized by the Democratic Governors Association. "We were complacent, we were smug, to put it bluntly, we were arrogant and I think out of touch, in many cases, with what was going on back in the district.

"That is not the case today," Ickes added. "We clearly have been on red alert for a long, long time."

Despite the party leadership being aware of the tough environment it faces, many in the grass roots seem ambivalent about the Democrats' fortunes in November. 

"Our base is unhappy, it's pissed off, I think unrightfully so," said Ickes, who was President Clinton's deputy chief of staff and advised Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. "I think in some sense they're fair weather on this issue. Politics is a long-term, tough business, and it's fine to be there when the tides are running with you, but you got to be there when the tides are running against you."

Ickes made a plea to party activists. 

"My exhortation to Democrats is the tides may be running against us, but you got to get out there and work. There are 55 days left, a lot of things can happen," he said.

The party also has to win over independent voters in order to be successful.

"We have got to be able to win enough independents to carry especially these marginal districts," Ickes said. "That goes for the governors, and it goes as well for the House and the Senate."