Democrats Long-road to House Majority

Steve Israel pushes forward despite signs that point to a Republican majority in the 113th.

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Listening to Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, you'd think Democrats are on the verge of a major election-day takeover.

Pelosi told CNN this week Democrats have a "very excellent chance" of regaining the majority.

But the man in charge of the strategy to overtake the GOP is far more cautious in his outlook.

"When you have the ball in your opponents' 20 yard line, your ability to score a field goal largely depends on the wind," says New York Rep. Steve Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Right now we have the wind at our back."

But the reality is that even with the $63 million in ad buys the DCCC has planned for the fall election, it's a steep climb for Democrats to recapture the House. The DCCC needs to gain 25 seats, and today few independent analysts argue it's possible.

Election-caller Charlie Cook predicts at best a low, double-digit gain for Democrats, and the University of Virginia's Crystal Ball anticipates a lousy four-seat advance.

"We had three wave elections," says Crystal Ball contributor and political scientist Jim Campbell. "It is highly unlikely looking at the closeness of the presidential race that Democrats would be able to pick up the 25 seats they would need." [See political cartoons of Mitt Romney]

Democrats hold out hope that Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" gaffe, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's "47 percent" blunder, and GOP veep nominee Paul Ryan's plan to reform medicare will spook voters into casting a Democratic congressional ballot in November.

"National factors can affect these local races," says Campbell. "At the same time, you could probably site as many factors working against the Democrats: the grumpy economic news, upset in the Middle East, and who knows what Joe Biden might say next?"

Cook adds that Republicans' dark days of August are merely "a 5-hour ENERGY shot—maybe a 10-hour shot—but not a vitamin B12 shot or a magic elixir" for the Democrats.

Despite all the noise, Israel remains confident. The generic ballot shows Democrats with a growing lead and with fewer than 50 days left until the election, the DCCC expanded its playing field and added four candidates to its Red to Blue list, a distinction awarded to candidates who prove they can break through in highly competitive Republican strongholds.

Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut's 5th, Krysten Sinema of Arizona's 9th, Rick Nolan of Minnesota's 8th and Joe Garcia of Florida's 26th have all been added as last-minute star candidates in Israel's playbook.

"I tune out the anecdotes and the prophecies and focus on operationalizing campaigns, one by one, state by state, district by district, vote bey vote," Israel says of all the commentary out there.

While high-profile Republicans might have made Israel's job easier headed into the fall, Democrats have had their own rash of setbacks.

Two Northeast Democrats are wrestling with ethics issues. In Rhode Island's 1st District, Rep. David Cicilline's popularity has plummeted since he left his post as mayor of Providence. Cicilline's campaign has been clouded with questions over a $110 million debt left after his tenure.

Massachusetts Democrat John Tierney is another shoe-in who lost ground in his election bid after a family gambling scandal left him vulnerable to attacks. Republican Super PACs—including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's YG Action Fund—announced an $800,000 ad buy. The buy will likely give Tierney's gay, pro-choice Republican opponent Richard Tisei an edge in the state's liberal-leaning 6th District.

"Who would have thought we would have been playing in these Democrats' strongholds?" says Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Earlier this year, Democrats also saw a few embarrassing setbacks in the South, which some say spoiled their brand. [Harry Reid Cancels Votes So Brown Debates Warren.]

In South Carolina's newly drawn 7th District, Democrats were optimistic they had a winner in family man and moderate state Rep. Ted Vick. But Vick dropped out of the race after he was pulled over for driving drunk with an unlicensed gun and 21-year-old woman in the car.