Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has high hopes for the GOP come November, predicting a two to 12 seat gain in the House and an 80 percent chance of the Senate flipping.
McCarthy noted that there are seven seats in the Senate held by Democratic incumbents up for reelection in states that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney carried in 2012, creating an environment he believes is ripe for Republican victory.
In the House, McCarthy said he is seeing polls "that are better than 2010 in some places." He cited races in three states that are "probably not on everybody's radar" as important seats Republicans could pick up.
He called Jeff Gorell, the Republican challenging Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), an "excellent candidate" who will win "if he has the resources." And McCarthy praised Rep. Daniel Maffei's (D-N.Y.) Republican challenger, John Katko, as well.
But McCarthy said his favorite of the cycle is Minnesota Republican Stewart Mills, who is challenging Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.). McCarthy hailed Mills as a "breath of fresh air" who understands the issues and has a small-business mindset.
"You want to talk about Obamacare? He can talk to anybody about it because it's affecting him personally," McCarthy said of Mills. "He runs the healthcare system for his hundreds of employees."
Another candidate McCarthy shared a fondness for was New York Republican Lee Zeldin, running against Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), a perpetual GOP target.
"I think you should run for Congress now, and I'll back you in the primary, and I don't back too many primary races," McCarthy recalled the advice he gave to Zeldin.
McCarthy also praised his fellow California Republican congressmen, Rep. Jeff Denham and Rep. David Valadao, who joined him at the Ripon Society breakfast, as politicians who "build and grow their district" and are poised for reelection. Both face competitive contests.
Denham said he was even "slightly more optimistic" than McCarthy in his midterm predictions, considering 2014 "one of those years where we can pick up more seats." He and McCarthy both acknowledged California, Illinois and New York as important states to watch.
Despite the optimism, though, McCarthy said it is not enough to "pitch a perfect game," adding that "You can't sit back and think the majority's going to come to you. You have to go fight for it."