WASHINGTON -- Pundits don't think Democrats have much chance to take back the House of Representatives this year, but suddenly their party is finding reasons to hope they might actually pull it off.
Democratic sources said a big cause for optimism is that the 2012 recruitment class, which the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will announce later Thursday, has reached an impressive 75 candidates for open and GOP-held seats.
"Strong Democratic candidates have now stepped forward in 75 Republican and open districts -- more than we ever could have predicted or imagined," said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the DCCC.
That number is important because Democrats need to take back 25 seats to win control of the House.
Israel thinks it's possible, because he believes he and his team have recruited a group of prospective officeholders who are more attuned to their communities than to specific party doctrine or ideology.
"These candidates not only fit their districts, but they're real problem-solvers who are committed to reigniting the American dream and rebuilding the middle class," Israel said, giving credit for the bumper crop of candidates to Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), chairwoman of the DCCC recruiting committee.
"We continue to expand the map of competitive races and have surpassed our recruitment goals for the entire cycle," Israel added.
There are other reasons why Democrats think they will do better than predicted, including the pounding Republicans took in December during the debate over extending payroll tax cuts. The Democratic Party's poll numbers remain generally stronger than those of the GOP, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll out this week finding Democrats leading Republicans 48 to 44 percent in generic ballot match-ups that ask if people would vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate for Congress.
"Momentum is at our backs," said Israel, whose committee also led its GOP counterpart in fundraising last year, taking in $4.3 million more than the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC still has more money in the bank because the DCCC had to pay off debts.
Although the national mood is decidedly different than the last time they turned the House in 2006, Democrats say the class of 2012 is beginning to remind them of the '06 bunch. There are many candidates Israel could point to, but Thursday alone saw two new ones jump into the fray.
In Pennsylvania, lawyer Kathryn Boockvar announced she will challenge GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick in a key suburban swing district based in Bucks County outside Philadelphia.
Update 2:50 p.m.: The NRCC was not impressed with news of the candidates, or with Israel's thinking.
“You have to feel sorry for many of these pathetic candidates who have been fooled by the same House Democratic leadership that told us the stimulus would keep unemployment below 8 percent," said NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay. "When they’re defeated in November, they’ll realize that Steve Israel’s promises to find them jobs in Congress are as empty as President Obama’s promises to find jobs for Americans.”
Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.