WASHINGTON -- The economy may be in the doldrums and his Democratic President's approval rating may be there as well, but Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel insists he can pull off a historic takeover of the House of Representatives next year.
"We have gone from a gale-force wind against us to a sustained breeze at our backs," Israel said in a briefing Friday at the Democrats' national headquarters in Washington, referring to the 2010 election in which Republicans crushed his party, grabbing 63 seats.
He suggested that since the GOP runs the House, they would face the same kind of anti-incumbent anger that his side felt last year. And though his party holds 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Israel claimed the Republican Party has more to fear from voters.
"If I were the House Republicans, I'd be more worried about the House Republicans' numbers than the president's numbers," Israel said.
"The president's numbers need to improve, but the House Republicans' numbers are toxic, radioactive," he added, "I think this could be one of the most challenging environments that incumbents have ever run in."
Israel is right that it will take an extraordinary environment for Democrats to take the 25 seats they need to win control of the House. The best the House minority party has done in the last 10 elections when they held the White House is to capture 21 seats, a recent analysis by the University of Virginia found.
Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said Israel's rosy forecast is simply a case of trying to wish something true.
"His job is to be as optimistic as possible, and convince people that somehow Democrats are going to pull off a miracle," Sabato said. "Right now, it seems improbable. I'm being kind."
Still, Israel pointed to various numbers to suggest it was possible.
First, he argued that generic polling finds Americans favoring Democrats by an average of three points. Second, he said Democrats have more opportunities than the GOP.
"The good news for us is that they've got 50, 60 incumbents that they've got to protect. We estimate that we're going to have 12 to 15 front-liners that we've got to protect," Israel said. "So their defensive field is much larger than our defensive field. ... That gives us the mathematical advantage."
He also argued that in spite of the sour national environment, Democrats can win because they have picked good, non-traditional candidates who would be "running like mayors" and focusing on problem solving and local issues.
Israel also contended that while Democrats got creamed last year by outside groups largely backed by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers and strategist Karl Rove, Democratic outside outfits have a chance to provide a "countervailing message" this time.
Republicans generally acknowledge that they have a larger field to mind, but believe the difficult economy and the fact that Democrats run the White House and Senate means the winds are still blowing in their favor.
"Unfortunately, the people actually feeling gale-force winds are the middle class families dealing with the devastating effects of Washington Democrats' job-crushing policies," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Joanna Burgos.