Van Hollen warns against complacency

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, warned fellow Democrats not to become complacent ahead of elections in which the party could lose seats.

In a memo sent Tuesday to Democratic members of Congress, Van Hollen pointed to history, which shows the party in power losing seats during the first midterm of a new president's term, and urged members not to be lulled by a false sense of security.


"Historically, we're facing a headwind this cycle with a record number of Frontline Members, a smaller playing field of challenger races, and a tough fundraising environment," Van Hollen wrote.

There are 41 members of the Frontline Program, which sets fundraising, communications and volunteer recruitment goals for vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Headed by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyConnecticut senators call for Subway to ban open carry of firearms Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal MORE (D-Conn.), the program closely monitors members' progress.

In a difficult economic climate, the DCCC still dramatically outpaced its Republican counterpart in fundraising, but Van Hollen pointed to an overall cash advantage the GOP holds. The DCCC, Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have a total of $20.2 million in the bank and $25.7 million in outstanding debt, giving them a balance sheet still leaking red ink.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have $29.4 million cash on hand and just $6 million in debt, giving them a net $23.4 million in cash.

"The NRCC's lackluster fundraising should not lull House Democrats into a false sense of security," Van Hollen wrote. "The RNC has the ability to transfer vast amounts of its money to the NRCC."

But Van Hollen noted the party is not bereft of more Republican targets, even after two wave elections in which Democrats picked up more than 50 seats. The DCCC has touted top recruits in former Delaware Lt. Gov. John Carney, who will run for Rep. Mike Castle's (R-Del.) seat; Florida state Sen. Charlie Justice, who will take on Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.); and journalist Doug Pike, running against Rep. Jim GerlachJames (Jim) GerlachThe business case for employer to employee engagement 2018 midterms: The blue wave or a red dawn? Pa. GOP 'disappointed' by rep retiring after filing deadline MORE (R-Pa.).

Van Hollen pointed to a total of 29 districts held by Republicans that President Obama won in 2008, with the most obvious targets being six Republicans representing districts that Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 | Park Police did not record radio transmissions during June 1 sweep of White House protesters | Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears Biden-Sanders 'unity task force' rolls out platform recommendations Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 MORE (D-Mass.) won in 2004.

But holding on to the party's large congressional majority will be difficult, Van Hollen admitted. The average president's party loses 30 seats in its first midterm, and just two in the past 150 years — Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 and George W. Bush in 2002 — gained seats during their first midterms.

Democrats are working on "creating our own political environments," Van Hollen wrote. Still, he conceded:  "History shows that we can do everything right and still lose seats."