Top Dem says control of House a tossup in 2012

WASHINGTON (PAI)– The Long Island lawmaker who’s running the U.S. House Democrats’ campaign committee is predicting narrow partisan control of the chamber after November’s election – but he won’t say whether it’ll be by his party or the GOP.

Instead, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., declared that the contest for rule of the 435-member chamber “would be razor close.”

“It’ll depend on the districts in play, the resources we have and the candidates we field,” he added.

Following the 2010 GOP sweep, which saw 87 new Republicans enter the House, compared to only nine Democrats, the GOP took over the House. It now has a 242-190 margin, with three vacancies. All 435 seats are up. Democrats hold the Senate 51-47, plus two independents who regularly caucus with the Democrats.

Israel, speaking to the Fire Fighters’ legislative conference on March 27, sketched out a scenario where the Democrats could pick up 25 seats and regain the House, although they would actually need a 27-seat gain, according to current numbers.

But before doing so, Israel gave the IAFF, which is plurality registered Republican in its membership, a stem-winding speech arguing why Fire Fighters and other workers should support congressional Democrats this fall.

“My job is to elect 25 Democrats so we can stop these union-bashing, Medicare-privatizing, Social Security-destroying House Republicans,” he said. Israel recounted the 2008 recession, which came after GOP deregulation, corporate excesses, and Wall Street casino gambling among other factors, and said, “These folks destroyed $16 trillion in wealth and put millions out of jobs.”

“And then they don’t blame the banks, they blame the Fire Fighters” and yank collective bargaining rights, wages and pensions,” Israel said. “We want to rebuild the country and the middle class by building unions, not busting unions. A gain of 25 seats stops the war on workers right now.” Then Israel unveiled his mathematical scenario for reclaiming the House for what he said would be pro-worker Democrats:

Republicans hold 45 seats in districts that Democratic candidate Obama carried in 2008. In the “worst case scenario,” which he used, Israel said the Democrats should pick up one-third, or 15, of them.

Republicans also hold 18 seats carried by both Obama and 2004 presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a Fire Fighter favorite who benefited from their endorsement and campaigning to win the key Iowa caucuses that year. “They’re rock-solid, pro-Democratic, pro-Fire Fighter districts. If the Republicans win two-thirds of the Obama districts, we win two-thirds of those, or 12,” Israel said.

That’s 27 seats, just enough to retake control, but Israel cautioned the party has “15 to 20 incumbents in tough districts” nationwide. Those lawmakers are getting extra party help through its “frontline” program, Israel said, in a subtle pitch for funding.

“If we lose five of those, it’s down to a 22-seat gain,” not quite enough to retake the House, but close, Israel said. He then named two Republicans in ethical trouble-lawmakers from Staten Island, N.Y., and Miami – and a toss-up race for a redrawn once-GOP Nevada district as other possibilities to reach his magic 25. Balancing that, Israel warned that pro-worker Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, also faces a tough race.

“I can’t think of an election where every phone call and every door-to-door visit could make such a difference,” Israel commented.

Israel did not stay around for questions, as he was one of a parade of speakers from both parties, including Kerry, who addressed the IAFF delegates.

Israel also did not mention other wild cards in the House outlook that could affect his calculations:

  • Partisan redistricting in North Carolina (pro-GOP) and Illinois (pro-Democratic) puts at least four seats in each state in play, and Illinois lost a seat. A pro-Democratic remap in Maryland puts one of its two GOP-held seats up for grabs. Maryland has six safe Democrats. GOP-drawn maps in Michigan (now 9-6 GOP) and Pennsylvania (12-7 GOP) could reinforce Republican strength, even as both states lose seats.
  • First-ever non-partisan redistricting in the nation’s most-populous state, California, gives the GOP chances to reduce its Democratic 34-19 majority. There are also two nasty Democrat-versus-Democrat incumbent fights in Los Angeles. Analysts add a non-partisan remap may turn Arizona’s group from 5-3 GOP to 5-4 Democratic.
  • Retirement or electoral peril of remaining so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, such as retiring Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., whose seats are expected to go GOP.
  • Chaos in Texas. The Justice Department challenged the GOP legislature’s redistricting map under the Voting Rights Act for shortchanging the state’s burgeoning Hispanic population. The Texas delegation is 23-9 GOP and Texas gained four seats.

“If you want to create jobs, don’t lay off Fire Fighters. Lay off a House Republican,” Israel concluded.           

Photo: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D – Calif., would be Speaker of the House again if the Democrats win back House seats. Amr Nabil/AP



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.