How Democrats plan to retake the House in 2012 (VIDEO)

Rep. Steve Israel, the Democrats' congressional campaign chief, hasn't said Democrats will retake the House – just that they might.

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel meets with reporters at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast, in Washington, on June 1.

Rep. Steve Israel, the Democrat charged with retaking the House for his party in 2012, says the election outcome “is going to be razor close, razor close. The House will be in play.”

The Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sounded a note of caution about his goal, at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters. “I can’t tell you we are going to get 26, I can’t tell you we can get 24,” Representative Israel cautions. A net gain of 24 seats for Democrats would wrest the speakership away from John Boehner.

When his party picked up a seat from the normally-Republican 26th district of New York last week, it “dispelled” party members' doubts about the coming election, Israel says. The victory was attributed, at least in part, to voter unhappiness with a Republican plan to have Medicare become a voucher-like program for Americans under age 55.

After that, voters, are having “buyers’ remorse” about voting Republican, claims Israel.

Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, recently wrote, “There is no historical precedent for the party of a president seeking reelection scoring a net gain of more than 15 seats.” Franklin Roosevelt’s Democrats only picked up 11 seats in 1936. Under Ronald Reagan, Republicans gained only 14 seats in 1984.

On the other hand, in 1964, the unelected incumbent Lyndon Johnson led his party to a gain of 37 House seats, in the aftermath of John Kennedy’s assassination.

Israel’s strategy to regain control of the House centers on congressional districts, currently held by Republicans, but where voters supported President Obama in 2008. He has identified 14 districts, now represented by a Republican, that voted for both John Kerry and Barack Obama for president.

His worst-case goal is to win 8 of them, Israel said. Another 47 districts voted for President Obama and are now represented by a Republican. His worst-case is to win 18 of those.

Writing in the latest issue of National Journal Daily, political analyst Cook cautioned, “Sure, there are 61 seats in Republican hands that were in districts won by President Obama in 2008, but the political climate that year represented a high water mark for Obama and for Democrats.”

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