National Press Club

Parties Assess Congressional Races

October 13, 2008 | By Andrew Kreig

Democrats appear ready break tradition with additional House gains in November’s elections, but Republicans still have time make up lots of ground, according Club luncheon remarks on Oct. 10 by former Republican National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen.

Davis, who oversaw the Republicans' House campaigns in 1998, 2000 and 2002 before announcing his retirement at the end this term, was the more specific in his predictions, saying that he foresaw Republican as losng “double digit seats.” But he later suggested that he might be including Senate totals, and he stressed that Republicans are saving their limited finances for a big push against the Democrats.

“For all their advantage,” he said of the Democrats’ strong fund-raising and campaign spending so far, “they haven’t pulled away. In the last two weeks, you’ll see us coming up close to parity.”

Van Hollen limited his prediction to saying that he expected Democrats to make significant gains, although he did quote independent pollsters Charles Cook and Stuart Rothenberg as predicting between 10 and 20 more House seats for Democrats.

If so, this would buck a tradition that a party that wins in one election (as Democrats did in 2006 with a net gain of 30 seats and no incumbents losing) tends to lose seats two years later. Speaking of vulnerable Democratic incumbents, many of them freshmen, Van Hollen said, “We’ve taken that list of 33 down to about a dozen,” in part by heavy grass-roots efforts beginning early last year.

In response to a question about potential surprises, Davis predicted GOP gains in what he called “snap-back districts” especially in the South, whereby voters are prepared to oust recently elected Democrats in historically Republican strongholds.

Van Hollen noted that this is the first national general election to reflect huge registration gains for Democrats during the recent presidential primary season, and that Democrats are working hard to ensure that new registrants focus on House races as well as the presidency.