Bolstered by Win in New York, Democrats Look to Retake House in ’12


House of Representatives
U.S. House of Representatives, Getty Images

Just two days after Democrat Kathy Hochul won a special election to the House of Representatives in a solidly Republican New York district, the head of the party’s House campaign cited the victory as evidence that Democrats could regain control of the House of Representatives in 2012.

Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who was joined by his Senate counterpart, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., at a news briefing Thursday morning, said the special election that was defined by a Republican budget plan that included a significant change to Medicare would influence the rest of his strategy for the campaign cycle.

“Today I can tell you that I fundamentally believe that the House of Representatives is in play and the Democrats can win a majority in November 2012,” Israel said. “The victory in New York 26 Will inform our strategy; it will not be our strategy.”

Israel and Murray argued that the fundamental Medicare changes, and the House Republican budget in general, were such bad policy that the 2012 campaign message will essentially write itself. Almost every Republican member of Congress, in both chambers, has voted for the Republican budget blueprint.

“I know as DSCC chair it is my job to focus on the politics. But really this is a lot more than just about politics. It’s bad policy. And that’s why voters in New York and across the country are rejecting this proposal,” Murray said.

Republicans were eager to respond.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday that while his party lost the special election, his party is standing for a plan to deal with entitlements, while Democrats haven’t put forward a plan.

“You know a third party candidate just spent three million dollars attacking the Republican candidate. I can be somewhat critical of how the campaign was run. But the fact is we didn’t win. And the part, the small part of why we didn’t win clearly had to do with Medicare,” he said. “We have outlined a plan, that frankly, we believe in. And the other fact is that the Democrats have no plan which is going to lead to bankruptcy and cuts in seniors benefits. It’s about time that they are honest with the American people.”

The National Republican Campaign Committee said Democrats were “spiking the football” after the New York victory. The NRCC responded directly to Israel’s briefing with their own message, a refrain from the 2010 cycle: Democrats have already cut Medicare.

“If Democrats want to talk about Medicare from now until election day, we’re happy to remind the American people that Democrats are the only ones who want it to go bankrupt and the only ones who already cut the program by $500 billion to pay for their government takeover of healthcare,” said Joanna Burgos,a spokeswoman for the NRCC.

The back-and-forth could be marked as an unofficial kickoff to the 2012 campaign, which at this point is likely to include a high-profile debate about how to reform entitlement spending in a time of record government debt and high unemployment. And while the New York win is a boost to Democrats who, in the words of President Obama, received a “shellacking” in November 2010, it is just one election. Election Day 2012 is 18 months from now.

Democrats have a fairly slim majority in the Senate — 53 seats, counting independents who caucus with them — and have more than twice as many seats to defend than Republicans this cycle.

Republicans control 240 seats in the House, while Democrats control 192 (there are three vacant House seats). After Hochul is sworn in, Democrats will control 193, and would need to pick up 25 seats in order to regain a majority.