By Mike Lillis - 04/25/12 12:35 AM EDT
Democrats are hoping to capitalize on Speaker John Boehner’s concession this week that Republicans are no lock to retain the House in November.
Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that Republicans have “a big challenge” if they hope to keep control of the lower chamber next year — a message intended largely to prod GOP donors to reach into their pockets ahead of this year’s elections.
But Democrats also saw dollar signs in Boehner’s comments, and were quick to pounce.
“He finally admitted it,” Israel crowed. “We’re just days away from the first Federal Election Commission deadline of the 2012 general election. Boehner … and the Republicans are pulling out all the stops to rile up their Big Oil and Tea Party campaign contributors.”
“Now, with the House at stake,” he added, “all eyes are on our response.”
Israel urged a $3 donation to show “just how committed we are to ending Republicans’ reign in the House.” The Democrats are shooting to raise $1 million — money they say they need “to keep pace with the Republicans.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who heads the Democratic National Committee, was also quick to weigh in, saying “extremism” in the Republican Party makes Boehner’s handicapping “entirely reasonable.”
“John Boehner has allowed the Tea Party to take over their conference,” she told CNN on Tuesday.
The Democrats need to pick up 25 seats to win back a House majority after being trounced at the polls in 2010, and most election handicappers consider them a long shot to retake the gavel. Still, the swift and coordinated reaction to Boehner’s remarks are an indication that party leaders intend to use any foothold to try to build momentum.
Boehner generated plenty of headlines Monday when he offered no guarantees that Republicans would keep the House after just two years in the majority.
“I would say that there is a 2-in-3 chance that we win control of the House again but there’s a 1-in-3 chance that we could lose, and I’m being myself, frank,” Boehner told Fox News in an interview that aired Tuesday. “We’ve got a big challenge and we’ve got work to do.”
The remarks veer sharply from the message coming from other House Republicans, notably House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), who just last week said Republicans would not only keep the House easily, but would pick up seats.
“I’m very bullish on the House,” Cantor said. “I am very confident that we will strengthen our majority.”
Boehner’s strategy also reveals a stark contrast between his leadership style and that of his predecessor, current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who, in the months and weeks leading up to the 2010 elections, remained outwardly optimistic about the Democrats’ chances even as polls hinted strongly at the coming bloodbath.
Indeed, when then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs suggested four months before the 2010 midterms that the House was in play, Pelosi and the Democrats were apoplectic.
“How could [Gibbs] know what is going on in our districts?” she railed at the time, according to reports.
Wasserman Schultz pointed out the sharp distinction on Tuesday, noting with some astonishment “how rare [it is] for a Speaker to suggest” his party is vulnerable amid campaign season.
“I can tell you that Nancy Pelosi would never have suggested there was a possibility we would lose,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Some rank-and-file Republicans, meanwhile, are defending Boehner’s appraisal as a practical strategy for rallying the GOP base.
Former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) praised the Speaker for making an “honest” assessment of the political situation to galvanize GOP lawmakers to raise money for the NRCC.
“The Speaker was telling, not just the world, but telling his members, that, ‘Guys, don’t take this majority for granted,’ “ Cole said in an interview with The Hill. “We have to do the things needed to hold it. … We need everybody doing their part [and] the reality is that not everybody does.”
Cole brushed off the DCCC’s decision to use Boehner’s comments in its fundraising efforts, arguing that the Democrats “would much rather have us fat, happy and complacent than they would worried and striving.”
“It’s their job to turn anything they can to their advantage — I get it,” Cole said. “But they would love it if Boehner was predicting that there was no way we could lose our majority and basically the election for the House was over.
“You put out a prediction like that and people quit working and other people say, ‘Oh, they don’t need any money now, I’ll shoot my resources over to the Senate or the presidency,’ “ Cole said.
That hasn’t stopped Democratic leaders from sensing an opportunity in Boehner’s warning.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said Tuesday that Boehner’s “1-in-3” odds-making missed the mark by a long shot. Strong candidates, strong fundraising and the popularity of President Obama, Hoyer argued, give the Democrats a definitive edge in this year’s elections.
“At best, from his [Boehner’s] perspective, it’s 50-50,” Hoyer said during his weekly press briefing in the Capitol.
“We’re going to pick up a lot of seats, and I think we’ll take back the majority.”
— Molly K. Hooper contributed.