Top Democrat offers two ways his party can overcome grim election forecast

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said at a Monitor Breakfast that Democrats can 'change that calculus' forecasting losses in midterm elections.

Michael Bonfigli/TCSM
Chirs Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee speaks at a Monitor Breakfast on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 in Washington, DC.

It’s looking grim for congressional Democrats in midterm elections this fall: an estimated Republican gain of two to 12 seats in the House, and a new Associated Press/GFK poll showing that voters who are most strongly interested in politics favor Republican control of Congress by 14 percentage points.

But a leading House Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, says it’s possible to “change that calculus.”

“The big issue in these elections is going to be the ability to turn out core voters,” and two things can work in favor of Democrats, said the ranking member of the House Budget Committee at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor Tuesday.

“One is, despite all their efforts to demagogue the Affordable Care Act … opinion is beginning to change slowly on that.” More people now support the ACA than oppose it, he said, and “large majorities are against repealing it.”

The GOP mantra against the ACA “no longer has much ability” to influence “persuadable voters,” said the congressman.

The other opportunity for Democrats is to draw a sharp contrast with Republicans, just as they did in the 2012 election in which GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney became the poster child for the moneyed class and special interests.

Representative Van Hollen, who is the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, cites the GOP budget – a 10-year document crafted by budget chairman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin – as a way to bring that contrast into sharp relief.

“Budgets are about choices,” he said and the GOP choice is to slash spending on children, students, nutrition for the poor, seniors, and investment in American innovation, science, and infrastructure.

Speaking of Mr. Ryan, he said, “As a human being, I think his motivation is genuine. But I think his policies are incredibly misguided, they are not connected to the real world of people who are out there working hard every day, people who are struggling. And if you actually take those budget numbers and translate them into how they impact peoples' lives, it is devastating.”

Van Hollen said that “contrasting” the Democratic message of jobs and opportunity with the GOP will “appeal to swing voters,” while getting Democrats to show up will require “punching through” their message and an effective ground game. “We’re in the process of developing a plan and a strategy to do that,” he said.

It is important, too, for President Obama to be engaged with the election, he said.

“If the number one priority here is to make sure that Democrats get out the core vote, then my view is that having the president out there on behalf of candidates is very important, reminding Democratic voters of the unfinished business that is before us,” he said.

Some members of Congress, however, don’t want the president to come anywhere near their state. “Every state and every district is a little different,” Van Hollen acknowledged.

He also voiced support for the president’s defense budget, which calls for troop reductions under the strategic assumption that the United States will no longer need to be able to fight two conventional wars simultaneously. He added that he did not think it was “logical” that people point to Russia and Ukraine as reason to dramatically boost defense spending.

“I think everybody remembers back in 2006, when Russian troops went into parts of Georgia. That was at a time when our defense budget was rapidly escalating. So the notion that there is some calibration in [Russian President Valdimir] Putin's mind between the size of our defense budget [and] whether he takes actions close to his borders” is disconnected.

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