Schumer Says 60 Seats Now Possible

Van Hollen: 75 House Seats May Be in Play

Posted July 23, 2008 at 6:22pm

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) expressed optimism Wednesday that the Democrats could wake up on Nov. 5 with a filibuster-proof, 60-seat Senate majority, but he says it isn’t a certainty.

Schumer, speaking at a news conference on the prospects of Democratic Senate candidates, described as “unlikely” the DSCC’s chances of winning the nine seats it will take in the November elections to create a 60-seat majority.

But Schumer noted that at this point in the 2006 cycle — about 100 days before Election Day — he thought it was unlikely that the Democrats would win six Senate seats. Senate Democrats ultimately did, taking back control of the chamber from the Republicans.

“It’s very difficult, but it’s not out of the question,” Schumer told reporters. “We expect to pick up a whole bunch of seats.”

A high priority on Schumer’s list of GOP targets is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Schumer described Kentucky as “winnable,” and said he in fact expects health care executive Bruce Lunsford (D) to win once people “learn” who he is.

Among Schumer’s top targets are five seats where he said Democrats are running ahead: Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Virginia — and six seats where he said Democrats are running even or are closing in: Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina and Oregon. Also on Schumer’s radar are Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

But the National Republican Senatorial Committee, reminding Schumer that he has at least one incumbent to worry about this cycle — Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) — suggested that the New Yorker’s plans for a big November sweep could be tempered by voters’ growing frustration with high gas prices.

“Democrats should be careful with predictions. I’m sure they didn’t predict being on the wrong side of most Americans on the energy issue a few months ago,” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said. “They should spend less time counting their chickens and more time getting their ducks, like Mary Landrieu, in a row.”

Schumer was joined at the news conference by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who was equally optimistic about the prospects of Democrats running for the House.

Van Hollen said 75 House districts are in play, including 25 where Democratic incumbents are running for re-election and up to 50 that are either Republican-held open seats or have GOP incumbents.

“The big story is we continue to be on offense,” Van Hollen said. “We will pick up seats in the next election.”

But Van Hollen, like Schumer, was hesitant to make firm predictions.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, pointing out that Congress’ approval ratings have dived to all-time lows since the Democrats regained power in 2006, joined the NRSC in suggesting that escalating gas prices could provide an unexpected political opportunity for the GOP this fall.

“The Democrats’ magic formula for not losing incumbents is to drive Congress’ approval rating into the ground and defy 57 percent of the American public that want to drill for more oil,” NRCC spokeswoman Karen Hanretty said. “It’s like their strategy is to double-dog dare people to vote for them.”

The NRCC and its efforts to hold off the DCCC in November is apparently not on the list of Van Hollen’s concerns.

The Maryland Democrat said the NRCC has failed to take advantage in several districts where it might have threatened. The DCCC led the NRCC in cash on hand as of June 30, $54.6 million to $8.5 million.

But Van Hollen did express concern about the deep pockets of Freedom’s Watch, a GOP 501(c)(4) that has been active on behalf of Republican House candidates.

Van Hollen, while noting his committee’s large fundraising advantage over the NRCC, said that the GOP committee has “contracted out its operation” to outside groups, specifically referencing Freedom’s Watch and its main financier, Sheldon Adelson, whom Van Hollen referred to as the advocacy group’s “sugar daddy.”

Republicans have continually dismissed Democrats’ charges that well-funded GOP advocacy groups would outnumber similar Democratic groups in the upcoming elections.

For every Freedom’s Watch, they point out, is a Democratic group like Patriot Majority, which according to the Washington Post, plans to spend millions of dollars on television advertising targeting Republicans running for the House and Senate.

Meanwhile, Freedom’s Watch spokesman Ed Patru laughed off Van Hollen’s charge that the NRCC has outsourced its campaign activities to the 501(c)(4).

“With all due respect to the chairman, just because we’re among the more than 80 percent of Americans who think this Congress has been a complete and utter embarrassment on energy and other issues, doesn’t mean we’re in cahoots with anyone,” Patru said. “Just about everyone is sick of their $4-plus gas prices.”