President Obama has called top House Democrats to promise help in 2014, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) told The Hill.
"On election night, just before he went out onstage in Chicago, [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi [(D-Calif.)] and I were sitting at DCCC taking a look at results around the country. He called and he said on the phone 'I am committed to helping House Democrats in 2014.' That was a Tuesday. On Thursday he called me on Long Island to say again, 'I am committed to helping Democrats in 2014.' At the White House holiday ball I have a picture of him saying 'I am committed to helping House Democrats in 2014,'" Israel said with a laugh.
Obama has not been known to call House Democrats often. He also took some flak this year for not giving money to the DCCC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, instead saving it for his own campaign. Israel referred to the conflict as a "kerfuffle."
There are major questions remaining about whether Obama will give the Democratic campaign committees money this time around, and how willing his campaign will be in sharing its huge trove of data and a top-notch field program. It was run by Obama for America (OFA) rather than directly through the Democratic National Committee.
"He has been proactive in offering assistance. We're talking to the campaign about what that assistance means," Israel said. "We have asked for some financial support."
The congressman said that Obama was rightly focused on avoiding the fiscal cliff, but promised to renew his to push for help after that issue is resolved.
"We're going to continue to have conversations about financial assistance and some other support, and as I said to the president, not just because electing House Democrats is important to House Democrats, it's important to his legacy," Israel said, describing the get-out-the-vote operation as "very high on the priority list."
"OFA had an absolutely exquisite state-of-the-art field program, everything short of drones over independent voters' homes. And we had our own state-of-the-art field program," he said. "If we can take the best elements of what we did and the best elements of what they did, it will be an incomparable field program. We've talked to them about sharing the analytics, sharing the data, sharing the mechanics. But again this is all against the backdrop of the cliff, so once we get past the immediate policy crisis I think we'll have time to focus on the political requirements."
When asked if Obama and his campaign had made positive noises about sharing that valuable data, Israel smiled and said "they haven't said no."
Israel was more effusive about another top Democrat.
"Bill ClintonBill ClintonFinally, an immigration reform bill that tackles family migration 5 ways politics could steal the show at Oscars Clinton: Dems will be 'strong, unified' with Perez MORE was just a rock star in 2012, in this cycle. There was nothing that we asked him to do that he did not do and half the time we didn't have to ask, literally," Israel said.
"He was a secret weapon for DCCC and I anticipate he'll continue to do that. This is the cool part, one of of the cool things that I love. My cell phone would ring and it would be President Clinton and he would start doing race reviews with me around the country ... and know almost as much as I did about who we were recruiting."
Democrats need to pick up a net of 17 seats to win back control of the House.
Israel argued that the party will seriously target 48 seats: 30 where the Republican incumbent won by a single-digit margin, and an additional 18 in states where Democrats historically have done better in midterm elections. He said many of their targets represent suburban, more affluent "soccer mom districts."
Israel said he'd called a number of candidates who'd narrowly lost on election night to encourage them to run again, including Val Demings in Florida, Nate Shinagawa in New York and Brendan Mullen in Indiana.
The military buff, who's written a book on the subject, repeatedly used field-of-battle terminology to discuss the ongoing fight for control of the House.
"You don't win an election on election night, you win it two years before election night. That's just fundamental, fundamental, which is why I picked up the phone on election night and started calling and why we put such huge value into our recruiting operation," he said. "You go early, you go aggressive. Your battle space is won not on the night of the battle, but in the months if not years before."
Israel predicted a good election cycle for Democrats despite the historic "six-year itch," when the incumbent president's party has often lost seats in Congress. But he stopped short of saying that the House is in play, a shift from his rhetoric from the last cycle that Democrats would definitely pick up seats and had a chance to win back control.
"I'm not sitting here and telling you that we're going to win the House back. I don't know — it's too early to make that judgement," he said. "I will sit here and tell you that if this is a referendum on House Republicans that we will do very well. We will pick up seats, we will continue to roll back the Tea Party tide in 2014 and it will be a good cycle."