By Mike Lillis - 03/08/12 10:14 PM EST
Riding President Obama’s coattails, Democrats will win control of the House in November, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer predicted Thursday.
The Maryland Democrat said Obama’s numbers have surged as the economy improves, while congressional Republicans are in “disarray” and Mitt Romney — the leading GOP presidential contender — is “a wounded candidate” after a grueling primary contest that still hasn’t ended.
“And if the economy continues to perform as it’s performed, I think we will take back the House.”
The comments reflect a rising optimism among Democratic leaders that winning the lower chamber is in their grasp after just two years in the wilderness. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has vowed to retake the House this year, and Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said recently that the race for House control will be “razor-close.”
They have a tough road ahead. After winning the House majority in 2006, Democrats were walloped at the polls in 2010, losing 63 seats and sending the gavel back to the Republicans. To retake the lower chamber, Democrats would need to steal at least 26 seats from the GOP in November.
The Cook Political Report, an election handicapper, said Thursday that 33 Republican seats are threatened, versus 21 seats currently held by Democrats. If all of those seats flipped, the Democrats would pick up only 12 seats — well short of the wave they’d need to retake the chamber.
Still, the daunting numbers haven’t prevented Democratic leaders from rallying their troops with optimistic predictions. Hoyer argued Thursday that the cards were stacked against Democrats in 2010, when the economy was much worse and Obama wasn’t on the ticket.
“We’ve got a very energized, wonderful communicator who is ... now out on the hustings,” Hoyer said of the president. “We have an asset that we didn’t have in 2010. And very frankly, [Republicans] are not going to outspend him.”
The tough GOP primaries also work in the Democrats’ favor, Hoyer said, as the extended debates have forced Romney far to the right and left him “a wounded general-election candidate.”
“I don’t think the American people know where Romney is,” Hoyer said.
Pelosi also waded into the presidential debate Thursday, saying the Republicans would be in a “much stronger” position if they’d already secured a nominee.
Hoyer forecast that the Tea Party — which influenced dozens of elections in 2010 with its small-government message — will not be the force it was two years ago. The Republicans backed by the Tea Party, Hoyer charged, were effective until they had to legislate.
“It’s very easy to be on the attack, because you’re unified by who or what you’re attacking,” Hoyer said. “Once you take over, as the Republicans took over, then they had to make decisions. And they’re not doing a very good job at that.”
Hoyer conceded that Democrats are “concerned” with super-PAC spending on behalf of GOP candidates, but was quick to add that campaign cash is only one in a long list of election-year factors. Romney outspent rival Rick Santorum by vast amounts ahead of Tuesday’s Ohio primary, he noted, but the race was still a squeaker.
“Money in and of itself will not control the election,” he said.
In the end, said the 16-term veteran, the elections will hinge on the state of the economy in November.
“When you get by all these wedge issues [and] you talk to most Americans, they’re concerned about jobs,” Hoyer said. “The economy is going to be the major issue, as it is in every election. If it’s doing better, we’ll do better. If it’s worse, it will affect us.”