Opinion: Dems pine for House majority

Before Congress adjourned for the fall elections, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) rated her party’s chances of taking back control of the chamber from the Republicans at “60 percent.”

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“The momentum is coming our way,” the former Speaker boasted. As evidence, she pointed to polls showing the GOP-led House with floor-level public approval and a high level of public opposition to one plan every Republican in the House voted for – making Medicare a voucher.

“The three most important issues in this campaign in alphabetical order are Medicare, Medicare, Medicare,” she later explained.

Democrats plan to “tattoo Medicare right to the (Republicans’) foreheads,” Pelosi said, in order to win the 25 seats needed to claim the majority.

That strategy has picked up momentum in the last two weeks.

President Obama gained a lead over Republican Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket, in part by hammering the GOP on Medicare.

The president’s success now extends coattails to Democrats running down the ticket. The House Democrats’ strategy is based on targeting 31 congressional districts the GOP won in the 2010 landslide but which supported President Obama in 2008.

Even with the wind at their backs, though, there are doubts that Democrats can win the 25 seats needed to gain control of the House.

Charlie Cook, the widely-respected political handicapper who follows House campaigns, puts 24 seats in the “toss-up” column, meaning they could go either way. In a recent National Journal column, he wrote even if the Democrats win all of those seats, they are still likely to lose 10 seats they currently hold.

That adds up to Democrats needing to win 35 seats in November to regain control of the House. Cook calls that “a very tall order.”

Another expert observer of congressional races, University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, has only 14 races listed as too close to call.

Even if Democrats win all those toss-up races, Republican John Boehner (Ohio) remains the Speaker of the House.

That leaves a “wave election” — a sudden surge for all Democrats — as the best remaining chance for Democrats to win control of the House.

The potential for a surge can be seen in three big political waves that are breaking this fall.

The first is the rising disenchantment with the political orthodoxy of the Tea Party. The second is the rise in the power of Hispanic voters. The third is polls showing voters trusting Democrats as much as Republicans to revive the American economy.

Here are three races that epitomize those waves:

The Tea Party’s problems are on display in Illinois’ 8th congressional district. Freshman GOP Rep. Joe Walsh, a Tea Party favorite, is locked in a tough reelection race against popular Democrat Tammy Duckworth.

Duckworth is an Iraq war veteran who wowed the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., this summer by recounting her own personal story of heroism and triumph over adversity.

Duckworth lost both of her legs in Iraq when a grenade struck her Black Hawk helicopter.

She subsequently served Obama as an assistant secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

While Walsh has a national conservative media profile that has given him a healthy fundraising base, the polls show him trailing Duckworth.

Walsh won the 2010 election by less than 0.2 percentage points.

In Colorado’s 6th congressional district, the coming political power of the Hispanic vote is roaring into view.

The new district in the Denver suburbs has 16 percent Hispanic voters, nearly double the number of Hispanics in the district where incumbent Republican Mike Coffman won election two years ago.

Coffman risked antagonizing those Hispanic voters earlier this year when he was caught on tape telling a town hall meeting that he believed Obama was not an American “in his heart.”

Coffman has also followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R), by opposing the DREAM Act, which would allow young people whose parents brought them to the U.S. at a young age to gain citizenship.

The most surprising of the waves cresting in this year’s House races can be seen in Ohio’s 16th congressional district.

GOP Rep. Jim Renacci won his seat in northeast Ohio in 2010 by portraying his opponent as too close to the anti-business Democrat in the White House.

But now — after redistricting — he is running against three-term Democrat Rep. Betty Sutton.

She is portraying Renacci to working-class, white voters as a Romney-type elite businessman who is out of touch with working-class voters. It looks to be working.

Even if those waves break for the Democrats, it will still be hard for them to capture the House.

But, ‘never say never.’

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.