House Dems move goal posts, claim victory in defeat

House Democrats on Tuesday night moved the goalposts and claimed victory even as Republicans retained control over the lower chamber.

Behind House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the chamber's Democrats had fought hard all cycle to accomplish their "drive to 25" — an effort to flip the 25 seats they'd need to take the Speaker's gavel from Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the Republicans.

Although the networks projected early that the Democrats wouldn’t come close to that objective, some party leaders said simply preventing the GOP from making gains constituted a win.

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"The Republicans said that tonight they were going to win 16 seats," Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), told several hundred supporters gathered for a watch party at Washington's Liaison Hotel near Capitol Hill. "Wrong! We're not letting them win 16 seats, we're stopping them in their tracks. We're going to gain seats tonight in the House of Representatives.

"I am so proud that we Democrats, in this cycle, in 2012, we stopped the Tea Party tide," Israel added. "We are retiring the Tea Party."

The remarks are a far cry from the Democrats' optimism just a few weeks ago, when they were convinced that Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as running mate would translate into big wins for House Democrats down the ballot.

"Romney grabbed the megaphone from us when he chose Paul [Ryan]," Israel said in mid-September, arguing that Democrats had the wind at their backs in their bid to retake the House. "He branded this debate, and gave us the debate we wanted."

But redistricting that tended to favor Republican candidates, combined with retiring incumbents in conservative leaning districts, forced Democrats to scale back their optimistic predictions in the days leading up to the election. The DCCC released several memos Monday that abandoned any mention of taking back the House.

The Democrats did pick off a handful of Tea Party-backed Republicans on Tuesday, including Reps. Joe Walsh in Illinois and David Rivera in Florida — wins that House Democratic leaders were quick to highlight.

But Boehner, in the end, will keep his Speaker's gavel while retaining a comfortable cushion in the next Congress. And the Ohio Republican is already warning that the House results have given GOP leaders something of a mandate to oppose some of President Obama's economic proposals — particularly his plan to hike income taxes on the highest-earning Americans.

“The American people want solutions — and tonight, they've responded by renewing our House Republican majority,” Boehner said Tuesday at a GOP gathering in Washington. “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.”