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Steve Israel Says House Remains in Play

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel delivers his speech to the Democratic National Convention. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel delivers his speech to the Democratic National Convention. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said Thursday that control of the House remains within his party’s reach.

“It’s absolutely in play and more so at the beginning of September than at the beginning of August,” he told Roll Call in an interview here a few hours before President Barack Obama accepted the Democratic re-nomination for president.

Israel said Democrats left Washington, D.C., early last month “in a fairly static and neutral environment.” But, he argued, their prospects improved last month for several reasons.

“I think we got our mojo back in August,” he said.

Israel said three things contributed to that shift.

The first was GOP nominee Mitt Romney choosing Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. Israel has more or less made Ryan’s controversial budget blueprint — and the way in which it transforms Medicare — the main line of attack against House Republican incumbents and challengers. Ryan being the VP pick “absolutely branded and nationalized the Medicare priority debate,” Israel said.

The second was Republican Missouri Senate nominee Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape.” Israel said that the controversy reminded people, particularly independent voters, “just how crazy and extreme the Republicans are.”

The third, he said, was the revelation, first reported by Politico, that some Republican Members — including one without a bathing suit — had gone swimming in the Sea of Galilee during a Congressional trip to Israel last summer.

“It doesn’t sound like much,” the chairman said, “But for independent voters who don’t pay much attention to things, that kind of thing drive them crazy.”

Israel made the case that the generic ballot had shifted in Democrats’ favor and said that proved that, if trends kept going the way they went in the last month, Democrats are on the way to netting the 25 seats they need to take the majority.

But the conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C., remains that Democrats face a extremely steep climb to taking back the House. And a National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman, not surprisingly, took issue with Israel’s assessment of the landscape.

“So getting your mojo back means 43 straight months of unemployment? This is just more disappointing news to American families,” spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said.

Because not every Democratic incumbent will win in November, Israel will need to win more than 25 seats. In fact, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) said as much in an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday.

“I think we need closer to 35 than to 25,” Hoyer said.

Asked about Hoyer’s comments, Israel said, “Everybody has opinions, and everybody is entitled to their opinions.”

When pressed, Israel noted there are 19 Democrats who are part of the DCCC’s Frontline incumbent-protection program. “You can’t get to 25 by losing 19, so our first obligation, obviously, is on defense, to protect those 19,” Israel explained.

But, he said, he was “more sanguine” about their chances. “Virtually all of our Frontline incumbents are in a much stronger position than Republican challenged incumbents in competitive races,” he said.

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