DCCC Chairman: Candidates free to disagree with Obama

Democratic candidates running for the House have free rein to distance themselves from President Obama, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said Thursday.

That freedom to openly disagree with the Democrat topping the ticket stands in clear contrast to House Republicans, whose campaign chief said a day earlier that 100 percent of GOP candidates would stand proudly with Mitt Romney.

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“We've told our candidates if you agree with the president, state your agreement. If you disagree with the president, state your disagreement,” Israel said. “It’s that simple.”

Israel said he didn’t expect Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage on Wednesday would be relevant in most House races, where candidates have been encouraged to run their own races — especially in centrist districts where ties viewed as too close to Obama could spell doom for Democrats.

“Our candidates reflect the priorities and values of the districts in which they’re running,” he said at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

On Wednesday, National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said every GOP candidate for the House would be energized and pleased to be on the same ticket as Romney. 

“The question is whether Mitt Romney wants to appear with any House Republicans,” said Israel.

Although Sessions predicted Republicans would maintain their majority — and even pick up seats in the House — Israel said he agreed more with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who in April warned that Republicans stand a one-in-three chance of losing control of the lower chamber. 

Israel said Democrats have put 75 seats in play across the country — far more than the two dozen they need to reclaim the majority they lost in 2010.

“There are only 25 cars in my lane,” Israel said. “I have to figure out how to run them off the road.”

NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said middle-class families would not go down the Democratic road of big spending and more borrowing.

"Steve Israel's should call AAA, because his car is running in empty," said Bozek.

Without offering a specific prediction, Israel said the contest for the majority in the House would be extremely tight and could go either way, likening it to a football game played between both teams’ 20-yard lines.

He pointed to major Democratic pickup opportunities in Arizona, California and Illinois. In New York, he predicted Democrats would pick up two or three seats this cycle, and will hold on to the district held by Rep. Louise Slaughter, the 82-year-old Democrat whose ability to hit the campaign trail has been inhibited by a broken leg she suffered in a fall one month ago.

“I'd rather have Louise Slaughter with a broken leg than Maggie Brooks with no spine,” Israel said, referring to the GOP county executive challenging Slaughter.

The DCCC chairman said he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met recently with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and David Plouffe, one of Obama’s top campaign strategists, to request help with coordinated efforts in states important to the party up and down the ticket, such as Arizona.

“I have made relentless pitches to the DNC,” said Israel.

He added that he expected the DNC would come to the same decision as the Republican National Committee about the need to coordinate party resources.

- This post was updated at 12:37 p.m.