Democrats optimistic they can take control of House in November

Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2009, to discuss AIG bonuses (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci
Rep. Steve Israel
Evan Vucci

The Democrat leading his party's effort to retake control of the House of Representatives is cautiously optimistic the November elections will make John Boehner a one-term House speaker, telling reporters Wednesday that "we are nipping at (Republican) heels and we have the potential to overtake them over the next nine months."

Democrats do not have the 25 seats needed to take control of the House in November locked in yet, but New York Rep. Steve Israel, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that his candidates are making steady progress with fewer than 300 days until the election.

He also said about 76 of the 435 seats are considered to be "in play" for one party or the other. Boehner and the Republicans took control of the House after picking up 63 seats in the 2010 mid-term elections. There are now 242 Republicans and 192 Democrats in the House. The seat of former Rep. David Wu, an Oregon Democrat, is vacant.

His confidence, Israel said, comes from Democrats faring better than expected throughout the redistricting process, resulting in a wash for both parties despite Republicans controlling the majority of state legislatures this year and he mentioned fundraising numbers, which the DCCC estimates will be greater for Democrats than Republicans when yearly reports are filed at the end of this month.

Israel said that Democrats are also extremely confident in their candidates running for office this year. Israel announced 18 candidates and 18 districts today that qualified for the DCCC's "Red to Blue" program that helps fund and campaign for candidates who have shown the ability to raise money, have crafted a compelling message and show they can strongly compete in districts where winning is possible.

The candidates, who Israel said reflect the American middle class dream, include Ami Bera, a first generation physician who will run against the vulnerable Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) in a district that's more blue now after redistricting in California. Val Demings, the first female chief of police in Orlando, Florida, will be running against freshman Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL). And Jose Hernandez, an astronaut son of migrant workers, will challenge freshman Rep. Jeff Denham in a California district that includes part of San Joaquin County.

And Democrats who lost in the 2010 elections amid a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment are now hoping to turn that anti-incumbent sentiment on their former rivals in 2012. Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY) and Charlie Wilson (D-OH), who lost their seats to Tea Party Republicans in 2010, bu plan to run again this year, Israel said.

"Even tea party voters have to be disappointed with the hypocrisy they have seen and the gridlock that they have seen by the members of congress they elected" Israel said, slamming votes Republicans have taken to repeal Obama's health care law and privatize Medicare.

The Democrat's strategy, as it has been all year, is to paint Democrats as the party out to fight for the middle class and the Republicans protecting the rich.

"These candidates across the country are going to be aggressively holding Republicans accountable for consistently choosing millionaires over Medicare, for consistently choosing oil company subsidies over middle class tax cuts, for choosing ideology over solutions" Israel said.

National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee Communications Director, Paul Lindsay, said the Democrats' campaign message won't work.

"With Nancy Pelosi announcing this week that Democrats will be running a campaign that takes pride in Obamacare and President Obama's other job destroying policies, the Democrat candidates in these districts are going to find themselves trapped in the very unfortunate situation of being saddled with an agenda Americans have already widely rejected" Lindsay said in a statement emailed to CBS News. "You can't help but feel sorry for the candidates that national Democrats have recruited to run on Obama's failed agenda. They are soon about to find out that Steve Israel's promises of getting them jobs in Congress are as empty as the President's promise to create jobs for Americans."

Israel rejected the notion that President Obama 's race for reelection would have much impact on congressional races. "The battleground to take the House back for us it goes through California and Illinois. I'm not sure that the DNC or the President is going to be investing huge resources in California and Illinois."

"We will win this on the streets and not at the 30 thousand foot level" Israel said though he said they are not advising candidates to seek distance with President Obama.

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    Jill Jackson is a CBS News senior political producer.