WASHINGTON -- The former Republican chairman who oversaw his party's takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010 thinks the Democrats could turn the tables this year.
To win the majority in the last election, the GOP needed 39 seats and won 63. This year, the Democrats need 25, and former Republican National Committee chief Michael Steele said Friday that they may do it, especially with President Barack Obama running hard and a potentially weak GOP contender at the top of the ticket.
"Twenty-five seats is not a lot," Steele said on MSNBC.
"When we won those seats that were formerly held by Democrats, that were in not necessarily strong Democrat districts but Democrat districts, those Republicans now have to go on the defense in an environment where the president is really going to be engaged," Steele elaborated. "The top of the ticket right now for the Republicans is a question mark, but if that individual's not strong, you could have a downward pressure on that individual congressman, and that forces that person out."
In such circumstances, Steele predicts a hard battle for his party to keep control.
"Twenty-five seats will be tough, I think, for the GOP to keep in an environment where if their message doesn't click, their momentum isn't there. It could be very, very hard," he said. "Right now I still say they hold it, but they're going to have to come with a good A game to hold it."
As RNC chairman, Steele was not popular with many Republicans because of his free-speaking style, although in this case they may agree that a weak top of the ticket makes their job harder. Some Republicans have argued that Obama will help them in swing districts because they think independents blame the president for the sluggish economy.
One GOP operative who was not impressed with Steele's chairmanship was also not impressed with his prognosticating. "Having had so little to do with Republican gains in 2010, it's no surprise that Michael Steele is clueless about the party's chances in 2012," the operative said.
Democrats earlier this week rolled out their slate of candidates who they think have a shot at winning Republican or open seats, including 39 races that Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called "real deal" opportunities.
Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
Update: 3:50 p.m. This story was updated to add criticism from a Republican operative.