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Van Hollen, Schumer Bullish on ’08

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the two Members charged with steering the Congressional Democrats’ political ship, aren’t publicly predicting another Democratic wave in 2008.

But they came awfully close during a joint news conference on Wednesday, the first either has held strictly on campaign matters this cycle.

Schumer and Van Hollen forecast big gains for House and Senate Democrats next year. Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, predicted that by Election Day 2008, his committee could be targeting up to 70 GOP-held House seats, up from the 44 Republican seats his committee currently considers to be in play.

Schumer, serving his second consecutive cycle as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, made clear he intends to use the same strategy in 2008 that worked so well in 2006, and that is for Democratic Congressional candidates to run against President Bush. Schumer said he expects the tactic to be successful even though Democrats now control Congress and 2008 is a presidential cycle with Bush not on the ballot.

“We are feeling very good. We are feeling that the wind is at our back,” Schumer said, during the news conference at the DSCC’s headquarters. “To me this could be a seminal election.”

Schumer acknowledged that the Democratic-controlled Congress’ job-approval ratings are low. But he blamed those poor numbers on Republican obstinacy, contending voters do not hold Democrats responsible despite the fact that they lead the institution.

Those comments, and Schumer’s prediction that Democrats would flip a significant but unspecified number of the 22 Republican seats that are up this cycle — and hold all of the 12 Democratic seats that are up — brought a rebuke from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“That is awfully smug coming from a leader of a party with an 11 percent approval rating,” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said. “I can assure you the Democrats underestimate how their trillion-dollar tax hike is going to play in places like Colorado and Louisiana.”

Fisher was referring to a national Zogby poll of likely voters conducted Oct. 10-14 that showed Congress with an 11 percent approval rating and President Bush with a 24 percent approval rating. The poll’s margin of error was 3.2 points.

Schumer and Van Hollen countered questions about Congress’ low approval rating by mentioning that their internal generic polls show Democrats with double-digit leads over Republicans, regardless of the issue in question. They cited those polls as the primary reason for their optimism heading into 2008, especially in Democratic-leaning and battleground states.

“You would think, historically, that we would be on defense. That our main job would be to consolidate the gains that we just made in the last election and try and sit tight,” Van Hollen said. “I think the big story on the House side this election is that we’re not just around trying to consolidate our gains. We are very much on offense.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee laughed off Van Hollen’s talk of an expanded Democratic majority, saying that Congressional Democrats have broken their 2006 campaign promises and accomplished nothing.

“One year ago, voters placed their expectations on the shoulders of Congressional Democrats, and they’ve failed to deliver,” NRCC spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger said in a statement. “Only on Halloween would Democrats attempt to trick voters by masking their abysmal record and do it with a straight face.”