From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Much of the political focus has been on the presidential race, particularly on the Clinton-Obama contest now that McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee. But no president can get his or her agenda accomplished without a friendly Congress.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) briefed reporters today on the status of the chances in November for Democratic Senate and House candidates.
Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the DSCC is challenging in 17 of 23 GOP-held seats, including eight he believes Democrats have a solid chance in and nine others where he thinks they can be competitive.
Van Hollen said there are about 45 to 50 GOP-held seats in play, including the open ones. Overall, he said, there are about 75-plus seats for the DCCC to defend and go after.
Here's the picture for the DSCC provided by Schumer:
Top targets: VA, NH, NM, CO, AK. (Schumer says they are ahead here.)
Second tier: OR, MN, ME. (These are blue states; Democrats are not ahead, but are competitive.)
Red-state seats in striking range: KY, NC, MS.
Good candidates with an outside chance: NE, KS, OK, GA, ID, TX. (Schumer says of Texas that he likes Noriega as a candidate and that incumbent Sen. John Cornyn is polling surprisingly low.)
Schumer said that in early 2007 he would have identified six seats he would be worried about: AR, IA, SD, MT, WV and LA. But he expressed confidence in Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Van Hollen called TX-22 (Delay's old seat), and TX-23 "front line" races. He said he is encouraged by the special election victory of Bill Foster in IL-14 (Hastert's old seat). Van Hollen called the IL-14 result "a wake-up call" to Republicans. The message, he said, is that a moderate Democrat, who fits that district "well could win." He cited LA-6 as an example of that. The Democratic candidate is the "underdog...but we still have a shot," Van Hollen said.
Those seats, of course, will be top GOP targets, where Democrats will have to allocate significant resources to defend and challenge.
In a bit of expectations setting, Van Hollen also laid out the historical trend, showing that after a wave election, in only one of the subsequent elections, did the party that benefited from the wave, increase its margins. "We think we can beat history," Van Hollen said.
A cautious Van Hollen also warned that even though the DCCC is ahead of the NRCC in fundraising there is also Freedom's Watch, a 501(c) 4, which has vowed to raise millions to compete in various competitive House districts. Schumer echoed the concern with being able to compete with 527s and other interest groups.
Van Hollen also warned about the down ballot effects of a drawn-out, negative presidential primary.
"The energy and enthusiasm in the Democratic primaries in a great sign," Van Hollen, an uncommitted superdelegate, said before firing this warning shot. "With one caveat: We have to make sure both candidates stay positive."
He added that if that doesn't happen, the Democrats run the risk of alienating important constituencies, who could decide to stay home in the general election.
"I don't think we're there yet," Van Hollen said, "but there's a danger. Down ballot races could be affected in the toughest areas."
Schumer, a Clinton backer, said there haven't been any dashing blows yet that could be over the line, and he asked rhetorically, wouldn't it have been nice to have had the Swift Boat controversy surface in March of 2004.
Schumer, though, alluded to potential concerns over fundraising. He said he was worried that the presidential candidates would "goop up all the money." But he said the DSCC has seen a "slight uptick" and that they're "doing well."
Van Hollen also said he thinks the candidates have to come up with an agreeable solution on Michigan and Florida because, if they don't, a prolonged, negative fight could affect enthusiasm and those important swing-state voters may stay home.
Schumer also said he believes this is a change election, a "tectonic" election similar to 1932 and 1980. In those elections, he said, Americans' relationship to government changed. In '32, they wanted government help, he said. In '80, Reagan said you don't need government anymore, Schumer added. He said that people today are much more pessimistic about their children's futures than they were in 1980
"2008 could be that election," he said. "People's relationship to government is changing again."
NEW JERSEY: Schumer also got asked of Rep. Rob Andrews, who has vowed to challenge Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Andrews has made age an issue. Lautenberg is the third-oldest senator in the Senate. Schumer, though, didn't call for Andrews to step aside. He said, instead, he is confident Lautenberg will beat him. He cited that the 14 populous Northern New Jersey counties are all for Lautenberg. He cited polling showing 71% of voters in those counties were for Lautenberg versus only 11% for Andrews. The voters in those counties, Schumer said, make up about 75% of the Democratic voting populace in the state overall.