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Pelosi's bold prediction likely wrong

Francis Rivera

Nancy Pelosi is saying Democrats will win back the House, again. But history and math say she will be proven wrong.

Three and a half months before the election, the House minority leader has a new “Drive to 25” campaign, and this one is even more of a pipe dream than the 2012 version.

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In an interview Tuesday with The Washington Post, Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she felt “very certain that we will win the 17 seats we need” to win back control of the lower chamber, and even raised the specter of netting as many as 25.

Such a result would defy the odds.

A two-term president’s party typically loses an average of 29 House seats in a midterm year after his reelection.

A loss of that magnitude is unlikely this year, partly because Democrats are in the minority and partly due to the way the last round of redistricting minimized swing districts. At this point, picking up seats would be a victory for Democrats on Election Day, hopefully better positioning themselves in 2016 to make a real run at flipping the House.

In an interview with The Hill last fall, Pelosi said House Democrats would “of course” pick up seats in 2014.

But with a president whose approval ratings continue to dwindle and Republicans posting strong fundraising numbers, it’s beginning to seem more likely than not that Republicans will add to their House majority.

Republicans are bullish and have set a target of picking up a dozen seats. Their “Drive to 245” seats will certainly be discussed as a barometer after the dust clears on Nov. 4.

Democrats released their new 2014 branding campaign on Tuesday, pitching a “100-day action plan” aimed at middle-class voters and pointing out differences between their party and the GOP on jobs, the economy and healthcare.

As I’ve written before, the optimistic tone from Democratic leaders, especially Pelosi, is to be expected. If party leaders went out and said, “Of course we’re not going to win back the House,” morale would fall even further and fundraising would dry up.

In 2010, Pelosi predicted Democrats would hold the House. They didn’t. Two years ago, she said Democrats would pick up the 25  seats necessary to win the lower chamber. They ended up netting eight.

House Democrats are also battling for relevance with their Senate counterparts this year. With much of their party’s nervousness resting on whether they’ll keep control of the upper chamber, the battle for the House risks falling further into the background.

Pelosi rightly noted that the party has to hold seats to make gains. But that may be Democrats’ biggest weakness in 2014, and one that only makes their task even taller.

The GOP-leaning seats of retiring centrist Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Jim Matheson (Utah) are gone. Democrats will pick up the open seat of retiring Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.), and other retirements in swing seats in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Iowa certainly haven’t helped the GOP.

Still, Democratic strategists privately have been far less bullish this year on their chances.

It’s the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s impressive fundraising — the campaign arm has an $8.4 million advantage over the National Republican Congressional Committee — that has kept Democrats in the running to cut into the GOP’s advantage.

House second-quarter fundraising reports were mixed for both parties, and each side had their stars and flops. While fundraising isn’t always a predictor of electoral success, Democrats should be worried about shedding several more of their vulnerable incumbents.

In Arizona, retired Air Force pilot Martha McSally (R) outraised Rep. Ron Barber (D) by more than $94,000, and she stands a much better chance of winning their rematch this time around.

Democrats are becoming increasingly worried about Illinois races, and one that Republicans are feeling better about knocking off is Rep. William Enyart (D). Republican Mike Bost’s campaign got off to a slow start, but this quarter he outpaced the incumbent by more than $32,000 even though Enyart has nearly double the cash on hand.

In other competitive races in the state, Democratic Reps. Cheri Bustos and Brad Schneider both topped their fundraising races, though Schneider’s rematch opponent, former Rep. Bob Dold (R), had a strong quarter.

Democrats are hoping to challenge freshman Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), but their highly touted recruit, former judge Ann Callis, fell far short of him in fundraising this quarter, bringing in $333,000 to the Republican’s nearly $555,000. Davis still has a sizable lead in cash banked as well.

Republicans came close last time to knocking off Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), and now he faces a primary challenge and a rematch with Republican Richard Tisei. Tisei, who is gay, outraised Tierney, $423,000 to the Democrat’s $407,000. While Tierney still has more cash on hand, he’ll likely have to dip into that ahead of his September primary.

Rep. Rick Nolan’s (D-Minn.) reelection bid could be a sleeper race, and Republicans are bullish on “Brad Pitt look-alike” Stewart Mills. Good looks and hair aside, he outraised Nolan $338,000 to $283,000, though he still trails in cash on hand.

There were plenty of GOP flops, too, and signs for worry — especially in open seats. Democrats are well positioned in Iowa’s open 3rd District, where their candidate, Staci Appel, outraised nominee David Young, the surprise winner of last month’s convention, who paid dearly for the win.

The retirement of Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) made the seat ripe for GOP pickup, but a costly primary there drained Republican Elise Stefanik’s coffers and she ended June with $152,000 in the bank. Meanwhile, documentary filmmaker and political newcomer Aaron Woolf saved more than $757,000. 

Florida Democrat Gwen Graham, daughter of former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham, could be one of the party’s best congressional recruits this cycle. She again posted big numbers, outraising Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) by more than $132,000, and leads him in cash on hand. 

And in one of their best pick-up opportunities, embattled Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) saw his fundraising dry up after he was indicted on 20 federal charges. Democrat Domenic Recchia has more than $1.2 million in the bank and far outpaced the controversial Republican. 

Still, gifts like Grimm aren’t enough to lift Democrats. What a comprehensive look at the House battleground — and even this quarter’s fundraising numbers — makes clear is that Democrats are nowhere near 25, or even 17, possible pickups.

This post was updated at 1:50 p.m.