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Chris Van Hollen Talks House Races and Playing Paul Ryan in Debate

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Democrats still have a shot at winning back power of the House, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told Roll Call on Wednesday in an interview.

“The House is still up for grabs,” said Van Hollen, the former two-term chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (2008 and 2010 cycles).

Democrats need to net 25 seats in November to reclaim the gavel, and their “drive for 25” slogan has been a rallying cry heard this week at almost every Democratic convention event involving House Members.

But despite Democrats’ optimism, most political handicappers have begun to rule out a change of power.

“No. 1, we will win seats,” Van Hollen said. “Two, the momentum is with us. I think the selection of Paul Ryan on the ticket has actually sharpened the issues in a lot of these races and helped Democratic challengers.”

Van Hollen praised his successor at the DCCC, Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), but he looked to President Barack Obama as the ultimate influence on House races.

“Ultimately, the issue is going to be how big of a win the president is going to have and how that relates to the House races,” he said.

Van Hollen, the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, picked up a new campaign role after Ryan, the House Budget chairman from Wisconsin, was selected by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to be his running mate. That role is to play Ryan in mock debates with Vice President Joseph Biden. As news began to leak that Ryan was the pick, the Obama campaign did not wait for official confirmation and moved ahead in asking for Van Hollen’s help.

“I sit next to Paul Ryan in the Budget Committee day in and day out,” he said on his preparation for the role.”So, I know how he presents the Republican case.

“He presents a plan that’s bad for the country with a smile, so I think the challenge is dealing with presentation of the plan, explaining why the plan is bad for the country,” he added.

As for himself, he refused to speculate on a future in the Senate or in House leadership. But upon learning that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described him as a prospective party leader this morning, he called her comment “flattering.”

“There’s nobody that works harder than Nancy Pelosi both on core issues for the Democratic Party and in trying to elect Democrats to the majority of the House,” he said. “All signs are she’s moving ahead and working as hard as ever.”

Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.