- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Liberal groups targeting moderate congressional Democrats should “beware of forming a circular firing squad” that could hurt the party in 2010 elections, says the head of the Democrats’ House campaign efforts.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said at a news conference Wednesday he has personally talked with certain individuals from liberal organizations who have begun raising money to finance challenges to centrist Democrats. He warned the efforts threatened to split the party and allow Republicans to pick up seats.

The Maryland congressman is trying to defuse heady expectations in his party for more gains in next year’s midterm elections. He spoke after too-close-to-call results in this week’s election for a vacant Democratic seat in New York.

Van Hollen presided over his party’s 2008 House campaign, which added 18 seats to the Democrats’ majority. While there will be some opportunities for knocking off House Republicans in 2010, he said the focus will be on “playing defense” to protect freshmen Democrats and other vulnerable members who won by close margins in November.

Noting that the president’s party has traditionally lost seats in midterm elections, Van Hollen said Democrats’ fortunes in 2010 rest largely on how the public judges President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy.

“Our prospects are obviously tied to how well the president is doing,” he said.

The election Tuesday was for the House seat vacated in January when New York Gov. David Paterson appointed Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Democratic candidate, political newcomer Scott Murphy, was locked in a tight race with longtime Republican state legislator Jim Tedisco in a district that has a Republican advantage of about 75,000 voters. The race will be decided by absentee ballots.

Murphy ran as a strong supporter of Obama’s economic policies, while Tedisco criticized Murphy for supporting Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan.

Democrats currently have a 76-seat advantage in the House.

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