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Van Hollen, Schumer Promoting Top Recruits

Democratic House and Senate candidates are in sync with Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) full-throated cry for political change, the leaders of the party’s two Congressional campaign committees said Wednesday.

Despite record-low approval ratings for Congress, voters will hold Republicans accountable for the nation’s ills and President Bush’s low approval ratings will drag down GOP incumbents and candidates in close races, the leaders predicted.

“If you liked the last six or seven years of the Bush policies, you’re going to love the Republican candidate,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in a conversation with Roll Call reporters and editors.

Van Hollen said that not only is Obama poised to help downballot candidates by drawing record numbers of young and African-American voters to the polls, but some Congressional candidates have well-oiled political organizations that in turn will help Obama. Van Hollen cited Ohio state Sen. John Boccieri (D), who is running to replace retiring Rep. Ralph Regula (R), and two Michigan challengers as candidates who can be especially helpful to Obama.

In Michigan, state Democrats have put muscular organizations behind state Sen. Mark Schauer (D), who is challenging Rep. Tim Walberg (R), and former state Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters (D), who is running against Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R).

Van Hollen also said that while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) enjoys a reputation as a political maverick, the voters’ sense of his independence will not be transferred to GOP Congressional contenders.

“I don’t think McCain being on the ticket is going to have much effect,” he said.

Even though Democrats gained control of the House and Senate in 2006, they remain on the offensive this election cycle, Van Hollen and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said.

“Most of the people thought we’d circle the wagons, having to defend our territory,” Van Hollen said.

He stopped short of predicting the number of seats Democrats would pick up in the House this fall and said he has warned his colleagues against “irrational exuberance” when it comes to tallying potential gains.

Still, he said the DCCC, which has already placed 44 candidates on its “Red to Blue” list of prime pickup opportunities, is likely to announce “at least one more round” of additions before Election Day. Another 15 are on the DCCC’s “emerging races” list.

Several House Democrats are potentially vulnerable, but Van Hollen said the DCCC has informally scaled back the number of Members on its “Frontline” list of shaky incumbents, from 30 to somewhere in the low 20s.

Van Hollen mentioned two of his endangered incumbents who he believes will win: Reps. Paul Kanjorski (Pa.) and Don Cazayoux (La.).

Van Hollen said that while Kanjorski’s challenger, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R), has been boosted by “right-wing talk radio” for his anti-immigration views, “his star has fallen back to earth.”

And the chairman said Cazayoux, winner of a tough special election earlier this year despite the Republican lean of his district, “is off to a great start.”

Meanwhile, during a news conference Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and six leading Democratic Senate candidates, Schumer refused to predict that Democrats would reach the filibuster-proof 60 seats in the next Congress, but he said they could come close.

“Well, things keep rolling in our direction, but it’s very, very hard to get 60 votes,” Schumer said. “It is more likely than not, however, that we will pick up a significant majority of seats. And if we get to 57, or 58, or 59, we’ll be able on key issues to pick up a few votes to overcome the Republican filibuster.”

Just as Van Hollen has appeared with top Democratic House candidates around Denver this week — and introduced eight of them at the convention Tuesday — Schumer has been squiring some of his top recruits to events in town. Appearing with him at the news conference Wednesday were former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who is challenging Sen. John Sununu (R); Rep. Tom Allen, who is running against Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine); Rep. Mark Udall, who is running for an open seat in Colorado; Rep. Tom Udall, who is running for an open seat in New Mexico; former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who is seeking an open seat in the Old Dominion; and Oregon state Speaker Jeff Merkley, who is challenging Sen. Gordon Smith (R).

“We were blessed that they stepped up to the plate and decided to run,” Schumer said.

For now, only one Democratic Senator is considered vulnerable — Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

The Udall cousins were particularly in their element — and in Mark Udall’s case, his home state — when they separately took the stage at Schumer’s news conference. In addition to sharing an extended family, Tom Udall said they share some media markets for their campaign ads.

“As the Udall from the south … our slogan is to vote for the Udall nearest you,” he said.