By Molly K. Hooper - 08/28/12 09:00 AM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Monday that Republicans are in a “strong position” to retain their majority in the House and could even expand it.
Boehner’s statements represent a significant change in position from his dire warnings in April that Democrats had a “1-in-3” chance of regaining control of the lower chamber.
Independent political handicappers believe the chances are slim that Democrats can pick up the 25 seats needed to regain the majority that they lost in 2010. But the odds of the House GOP expanding its majority are small, according to prognosticators.
Some, including The Hill, predict that Democrats will cut into the GOP majority but fall short of the 25.
Over the past few weeks, the Speaker has sounded more confident in his party’s chances to pick up seats while barnstorming for scores of GOP candidates across the country, raising $4 million at 47 events.
And the word he’s “preached” to his GOP colleagues and contenders is “offense.”
Boehner said endangered GOP lawmakers, including in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) “Patriot Program,” are doing better than he could have imagined at this point in the election season.
He noted that the NRCC has spent the last 18 months prepping GOP incumbents facing rough reelection battles to free up resources for GOP contenders in open districts or districts held by Democrats.
“Many of them are in better shape than I would have guessed, and, frankly, I want to use more of our resources on offense than I do playing defense. And while the political prognosticators are out there talking about how many seats we’re going to lose … my goal is to gain seats. I’m going to keep our team on offense all the way through the election,” Boehner pledged.
Democrats say that control of the House is in play and claim their chances have improved since GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney selected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate. Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman, proposed a controversial overhaul of Medicare that Democrats have attacked throughout this cycle.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other leading Democrats say the chances of the House flipping are better than 50-50.
Boosted by recent successful fundraising efforts, Democrats are aiming to take out a slew of freshman GOP members this fall, including outspoken Reps. Joe Walsh (Ill.) and Allen West (Fla.).
In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 47 percent of respondents favored a Democratic-controlled Congress compared to 42 percent in favor of a GOP-controlled Congress. The poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters who were polled from Aug. 16-20, with a 3.1-point margin of error.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spokesman Jesse Ferguson pointed to that poll as a sign of GOP political troubles.
“This Republican Congress has the lowest poll numbers in history — nearing the margin of error of zero — so they’re going to have a lot of trouble getting voters to let them build more on that. Democrats are going to reverse their Tea Party wave of 2010 because Republicans are stuck defending their support for Congressman Ryan’s terribly unpopular budget that put millionaires ahead of the middle class and Medicare,” Ferguson told The Hill.
Boehner and key officials at the NRCC claim the Medicare issue hasn’t hurt Republicans.
NRCC staff director Guy Harrison predicted on Monday that House Republicans could gain four to eight seats on Nov. 6.
Boehner, too, said that Republicans welcomed the debate on the lightning-rod issue because Congress will have to deal with it next year, regardless of which party wins the White House or Congress.
The Speaker told reporters that selecting Ryan was the right move.
Boehner noted that he has known Ryan since the Wisconsin native’s college days at Miami University in Ohio, when the then-20-year-old put up yard signs to help Boehner’s bid for the House in 1990.
Recent reports indicate that some Republicans urged Ryan to challenge Boehner for the top GOP leadership post, but Ryan opted against it.
Boehner called Ryan “a bright young man who works hard.” Romney’s selection of him for his vice president, Boehner said, demonstrated that the former Massachusetts governor “understood that we had to be on offense … it’s brought energy to the campaign and energy to the candidate.”
Even though the Speaker believes Romney has a very good chance of winning the election, he said he will work with President Obama if he wins a second term.
Boehner, who has had a hot and cold relationship with Obama, said, “I have no doubts that if required, I can find common ground with the president. We found an awful lot of common ground last year in attempting to solve our debt crisis. Unfortunately, the president lost his courage, but for those who know me and have listened to me over the course of the last 30 days I never give up … I’d never give up on the president regardless of who’s occupying that office.”
Obama and other White House officials say that Boehner was the one who walked away from a potential “grand bargain” in the summer of 2011.