Being the lead tackle of the House Democratic defensive line isn't a peachy job, as Rep. Chris Van Hollen will tell you. And frankly he should have known better before agreeing to strap on a helmet: The Marylander headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2008, maybe the best and most fun year ever for electing Democrats.
But there's a reason House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Van Hollen to accept a second tour of duty, even though most pundits predict the Democrats will lose control of the House: Van Hollen and his team have the 2008 experience needed to figure out how to fight the expected anti-incumbent party wave that typically follows two years after a presidential election.
While party officials never envisioned the wave to be so high and strong after President Obama's stirring 2008 victory, by having Van Hollen stay on, many Democrats believe that the party is poised to keep the November midterm elections from being an embarrassing rout. Some even see signs of life among Democratic voters, leading to public predictions that the Democrats will keep the majority, claims the GOP scoffs at, especially with polls giving the Republicans a 10-point advantage.
Van Hollen, who has surrounded himself with long-time and experienced operatives and Pelosi insiders, said that having one cycle under his belt gives him the confidence to make the early decisions to help his team. Just one that's paying off now: The DCCC reserved TV ad time long ago, and at far cheaper prices than stations are charging today.
"I'm glad I'm where I am in this position," he says. "Obviously it's a tough cycle but you know, when the speaker asked me to do this again, she said she didn't want somebody to start out with training wheels on."
In the first year of his second term, he saw success as the DCCC won some key special elections. He said that his organization is now "one of the strongest DCCCs in the history of the organization." And that, he adds, is key to fighting the GOP this year. "I think it's a cycle that really puts all of us to the test and we are going to do the best we can. I'm confident the day after the election we at the DCCC will be able to say that we did everything possible to hold onto the majority and that we will have the majority."
- See a slide show of 11 hot races in November.
- See a slide show of 14 establishment candidates who lost to insurgents.
- Check out our editorial cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.