From NBC's Carrie Dann
History may not be on Rep. Chris Van Hollen's side, but he's not giving up the ghost for 2010.
House Democrats already made history in November by winning more than 20 seats in two consecutive elections, and more Democratic gains in two years would be unprecedented. In fact, the party in power has customarily lost an average of almost 30 House seats in off-election years. "Just being realistic, we are going to be fighting hard just to hold our own" in the next cycle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman said this morning.
Briefing reporters today at the National Press Club, Van Hollen did not rule out a Democratic hat trick in 2010, but he also cautioned that Democrats' successes in the next election cycle will depend on the American people's perceptions of Congress. Bolstering that perception would be quick legislative action on at least two fronts where Van Hollen hopes for "solid wins we can get right out of the box" : children's health care and new renewable energy portfolios.
He added that Democrats would continue to target House seats in which Republicans won with less than 55% of the vote this cycle and those districts where the GOP continued to hold Congressional power despite a strong performance by John Kerry in 2004.
Previously, Van Hollen had hinted that he would not re-up as the DCCC chief for another election cycle, then did an abrupt about-face after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked him to stay on in the post. The Maryland congressman said that he decided to keep the position because of the opportunity "to marry the policy role and the political role" offered by the DCCC gig and the new (simultaneous) job as Assistant to the House Speaker. In that expanded capacity, he said, his primary responsibility will lie in incumbent retention and policy solutions. "I believe more than ever, this cycle, good policy will lead to good politics," he said. (Pressed for tea leaves about what his new expanded role means for his widely rumored hope to run for U.S. Senate one day, Van Hollen conceded that he would "certainly take a look at" a run in Maryland should a vacancy arise, but that he's received no indication that Sen. Barbara Mikulski intends to retire at the end of her term.)
The Democratic congressman demurred when asked to weigh in on the developing boxing match between Reps. Henry Waxman and John Dingell over the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee. On the struggle over the House's longstanding seniority system, he said only that Waxman's challenge is within procedural rules and that the Capitol functions as "a democracy."
Van Hollen also said that he hopes Congressional Democrats will continue to benefit from Barack Obama's groundbreaking organizational capacity during the extended presidential race. "He obviously has a stake in this," Van Hollen said of Obama's willingness to remobilize his volunteer network two years from now. "The 2010 election will be seen as a referendum, the semester grade on the Obama administration."
Although Van Hollen was conspicuously upbeat about the outcome of the 2008 House races -- in which Democrats picked up fewer seats than some pundits prognosticated -- he allowed himself some tongue-in-cheek exasperation at the outcome of one Congressional race that floored even cautious observers. "Don Young, I mean... What can you say?" he joked, referencing the reelection of Alaska's At-Large representative despite an ongoing corruption investigation. "I guess the fact of the matter is, in Alaska you actually have to be convicted" in order to lose an election.