Priebus predicts 'tsunami' election

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Tuesday predicted a "tsunami" election for the GOP this fall.

But Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) quickly rebutted her Republican counterpart's optimism heading into the midterms. Facing a hostile electorate and a president with dwindling approval ratings, she nevertheless insisted her party's tech advantage coupled with the GOP's tendency to nominate flawed candidates would help her party hold the line in the midterms.

Each party leader's remarks came a year to the day after the RNC released its 2012 election autopsy report, titled the "Growth and Opportunity Project," which outlined a series of recommendations from an RNC panel to correct the problems that led to the GOP’s unforeseen losses in 2012.

And they marked, for Republicans, a decidedly more favorable landscape and optimistic tone for the party’s chances this cycle. A devastating special election loss for Democrats in a bellwether Florida district last week, along with President Obama's persistently low popularity and nagging difficulties with ObamaCare, have Republicans predicting monumental wins this November.

“I think we’re in for a tsunami-type election in 2014,” Priebus told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast on Tuesday.” My belief is, it’s going to be a very big win, especially at the U.S. Senate level, and we may add some seats in congressional races.”

He cited the wins in that Florida special election and the San Diego mayoral race as evidence the midterms would be a referendum on ObamaCare and President Obama’s governance.

“You had the nationalization of Barack Obama and ObamaCare in both of these places,” Priebus said. “It is a poisonous issue for Democrats.”

Last year's report emphasized the party’s need to reach out to minorities, women and young voters, all demographic groups that broke for Obama in 2012 and ones the GOP has typically had trouble wooing in past elections. But Priebus said he believes ObamaCare, which he said was “made to screw young people over,” would help improve the party’s standing with women and young voters.

"I think among youth and women, you're going to see the greatest growth in 2014," the RNC chairman said. "I think it's going to be an issue that's going to cause an increase, especially among women under 35."

He acknowledged, however, that the party’s successes in 2014 wouldn’t necessarily translate to 2016.

“I need to, and we need to at the RNC, make sure that we can capture the positives and the benefits we’ve been able to provide in 2014 and build on that to have success in 2016, which is a very different type of election,” he said.

Asked repeatedly about whether the GOP has fallen short on a core plank of the 2012 autopsy report — a commitment to pursuing immigration reform, which most GOP leaders see as a necessary precursor to competing with voters nationally — Priebus insisted the party is making headway on that issue.

“I would … caution you not to impose your definition of what comprehensive immigration reform is,” he said. “There’s a general agreement that we need to have serious immigration reform, but I don’t believe there’s general agreement as to what that reform is.”

In a rebuttal press conference scheduled immediately after Tuesday’s breakfast, Wasserman Schultz pushed back on Priebus’s remarks, noting in 2012, Republican optimism was proven wrong.

“Their prediction accuracy isn’t exactly on the mark of late,” she said.

While she acknowledged Democrats have a turnout problem heading into the midterm elections, Wasserman Schultz said she’s “confident” the party would keep the Senate this fall, even as they face a growing, treacherous map. She said beliefs espoused by a number of GOP candidates this cycle on issues ranging from education to gay rights indicates the party hasn’t made any progress in expanding its appeal beyond its base voters. 

Wasserman Schultz repeatedly cited Democrats’ tech and data advantages as reasons its been successful in previous elections, which they plan to maintain with ongoing investments this cycle — though the Florida special election indicated the GOP is beginning to catch up to that advantage.

While the chairwoman has previously been an outspoken defender of ObamaCare, insisting at multiple times that Democrats could run and win on the law, when asked on Tuesday whether that remains the case, she was slightly more subdued in her defense of the law.

She touted a number of benefits to the law, including the provisions that allow people to stay on their parents’ health care until they’re 26 and the plank that prevents insurers from denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions, as assets.

“I will take the difference between a Republican candidate who wants to take all that away from folks, and Democratic candidates who think that those benefits should remain,” she said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney also pushed back, calling Priebus' 'tsunami' remarks an "interesting choice of words."

The presidential spokesman said that Democrats' "policy approach is supported by a substantial percentage of Americans" and said the Republican platform had helped "precipitate the worst recession since the Great Depression."

"I think the Senate is going to be retained by Democrats for the reasons I just described," Carney said.

— This post was updated at 2:45 p.m.

Justin Sink contributed.