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Dem House campaign chief: 'The House is in play'

Democrats thumped their collective chest one more time following the special election in NY-26.

"The House is in play," boasted Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, at a briefing with his counterpart at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). Israel said it's "far earlier" than he thought he would have been able to say that.

Democrats need 25 seats to take back the House. Israel has talked before about a "Drive for 25," but hadn't explicitly declared previously that it was "in play." He joked that the "Drive for 25" is now known as "Only 24 More."

Israel stressed, however, that while NY-26 "informed our strategy," it "won't BE our strategy." He said the messaging on Medicare and ending oil subsidies worked and will work in many races across the country, but he said he is "not going to get cocky." He called the race a "shot in the arm," and makes him "confident," but he is still going to be "strategic" and "calculating."

"We'll take the Medicare fight anywhere in the country," he said. He contended that the presence of a third-party, Tea Party candidate had no effect on the race. "The fact is Jack Davis wasn't a factor," he said, adding that as Election Day got closer that Davis voters broke toward Democrat Kathy Hochul. "Even in a two-way," he said, "she would've won."

While he wouldn't put a number on how wide he believes the playing field is now, he maintained that there are 97 Republican-held districts that are more conservative than NY-26.

Those members are "losing sleep" after NY-26, Israel said.

"This is a lot more than just about politics," Murray said. "It's about policy."

She contended that's why people are "rejecting" Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) controversial budget proposal, which would partially privatize Medicare. She said voters will reject Republicans' agenda, which is not about jobs, she said, but about "ending Medicare as we know it," continuing oil subsidies, and tax cuts for the rich.

Democrats are largely playing defense in the Senate this cycle. Republicans need to pick up four seats if President Obama is reelected to take back control -- and three if he is not. Of First Read's Top 10 Takeovers released in March, before Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl's retirement in Wisconsin, eight were GOP targets.

But Democrats feel they have an opening, particularly on the issue of Medicare. Murray said Republican Senate candidates are tying themselves "in knots" over Ryan's plan -- and that, in part, gives her confidence her party will retain control of the Senate.

"We're not going to let up," Murray said. "We're going to hold Republicans accountable."