- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

National Democratic Party officials are deviating from the party's recent message, saying they still expect to pick up seats in Congress but not promising to win control of the House from Republicans.
"We're going to have a great election this November. We're going to win a majority of governorships, we're going to pick up at least one Senate seat, we're going to net House seats for the fourth cycle in a row," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."
That declaration came three days after Mark Walsh, a DNC volunteer adviser speaking on Radio America's "Battle Line" program, predicted Democrats will "make grounds" in the House, but also did not predict taking control.
Republicans jumped on the two statements as evidence Democrats have given up hope for retaking the House, where the Republicans hold a six-seat edge, when all 435 seats are up for election in November.
"What it is, is national Democrats showing what nonpartisan pundits have been saying for months now that House Democrats don't have a shot at a takeover," said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the organization charged with electing Republicans to the House.
But a spokeswoman for Mr. McAuliffe and the DNC said they aren't conceding defeat in the battle for the House.
"It is not a contradiction to say we're going to win back the House and net House seats," Jennifer Palmieri said. "You can't win back the House without netting House seats.
"By definition a great election is winning the House back, holding on to the Senate and winning a majority of governorships. The chairman was elaborating on this point by noting Democrats had netted House seats every year since 1994 and we believe this is the year we will go over the top," she said.
However Kevin Sheridan, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said it would be out of character for Mr. McAuliffe to have understated things.
"If you watch McAuliffe on a continual basis, he constantly overpromises and underdelivers; so for him not to be guaranteeing victory in the House this year speaks volumes regarding the chances for Democrats to regain control," Mr. Sheridan said.
Added Mr. Forti: "I think that we saw a moment of sheer honesty."
Republicans are optimistic about retaining the House this year because the once-a-decade redistricting process has protected incumbents and left relatively few seats in play political analysts say about 40-50. NRCC Chairman Thomas M. Davis III, a congressman from Virginia, said Democrats would have to win 75 percent of those races to take back the House, because Republicans hold a six-seat majority now and expect gains from states losing seats in reapportionment.
But Democrats say the historical trend benefits them the president's party has lost House seats in all but two nonpresidential-year elections since World War II. They also point out that since winning the House in the 1994 elections, Republicans have been on a slide, losing seats in every subsequent election.
For his part, RNC Chairman Marc Racicot said he understood why Democrats weren't predicting big things, and he likened it to when he played Little League baseball.
"You plan and you train and you study and you get ready, but you never made a prediction about victory not only was it a matter of bad luck, it stole away some of the intensity of your preparation," he said.
As for Republicans' chances, he said, "We believe that we will be very, very competitive, and if we work very hard, as members of the same team, we will hold on to the House."


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