Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) downplayed his party’s losses in the House on Tuesday night, attributing part of the challenge to “top of the ticket drag” in some states on a conference call with House Democrats Thursday afternoon.

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“We didn’t land where we needed but the climate made it impossible to land where we wanted to and we landed in as good a place as we could given what was working against us,” Israel said, according to a source on the call.

Democrats in both chambers and holding governors’ mansions suffered steep losses Tuesday night as a wave of discontent with the president swept new Republicans into office and kept other vulnerable GOP lawmakers safe.

House Democrats lost at least 13 and as many as 16 seats Tuesday night, picking up only three out of about two-dozen seats Democrats saw as competitive. Still, Israel downplayed that number, noting that a president’s party has lost 29 seats during a midterm on average, and that the last two waves resulted in two or four times that number of pickups for the party benefiting from it.

“Another external variable that we were fighting was top of the ticket drag," Israel added. "If you take a look at our incumbents who lost and challengers who lost virtually every single one was smothered by very, very difficult races at the top of the ticket.”

Israel, who's stepping down as chairman of the committee, highlighted the committee’s unprecedented ground game and early advertising investments, which allowed it to spend $6 million less for the same amount of airtime as the GOP committee, as helpful in mitigating its losses.

But criticism of the DCCC’s strategy, and Israel’s leadership, has begun to bubble up. Some have suggested Israel failed to recruit strong candidates, and already the committee is taking fire on specific races, like that in New Jersey’s 3rd District, where PolitickerNJ declared the DCCC “showed up in CD3 and proceeded to make a mess of [losing Democrat Aimee] Belgard’s campaign.”

An aide on the call, however, shared only effusive praise for the chairman, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) calling him an “MVP.”

“I want to particularly thank Chairman Steve Israel for his remarkable astuteness, and organization and management, mobilization, money, the rest of it — and messaging of course,” she said.

Members on the call, including those who narrowly won and even some who lost, thanked the DCCC for its help, with defeated Rep. Tim BishopTimothy (Tim) Howard BishopDem candidate 'struck by the parallels' between Trump's rise and Hitler's Dems separated by 29 votes in NY House primary Flint residents hire first K Street firm MORE (N.Y.) saying that “everything we asked for we got, and then some.” 

Even Rep. Steven Horsford (Nev.), whose loss came as a shock to many on Tuesday night, offered praise for the committee.

“Once the outside money started, it just didn’t stop. We were able to basically counter with $500K within a matter of days — and that couldn’t have been done without the leadership of the DCC and everyone on this call,” he said.

And two still facing recounts, Reps. Ron BarberRonald (Ron) Sylvester BarberKavanaugh nomination a make or break moment to repeal Citizens United Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 Principles and actions mean more than Jeff Flake’s words MORE (Ariz.) and Ami BeraAmerish (Ami) Babulal BeraDem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms Bipartisan group of lawmakers seeks rules changes under next Speaker By reversing course on Ebola funding, Trump brings compromise MORE (Calif.) expressed confidence — for Bera, “cautious optimism” — that they’d make it out victorious.

The members did acknowledge they need to continue to work at some issues going forward, including turning out the base during the midterms and investing in voter registration and long-term communication.

But some saw a silver lining in Tuesday night’s losses.

“Leader Pelosi, Steve and the DCCC team did a tremendous job — the worst didn’t happen, and they deserve a level of respect for the work that was done. Now Republicans have to stop blaming Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidKavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Dems can’t ‘Bork’ Kavanaugh, and have only themselves to blame Dem senator: Confidential documents would 'strongly bolster' argument against Kavanaugh's nomination MORE and the president for problems,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.).