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Only '08 storm cloud for Democrats: heated presidential race

Obama, Clinton should tone down rhetoric, says Van Hollen, head of the party's congressional campaign committee.

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Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says his party should "beat history" and pick up House seats in the 2008 election if it can avoid self-inflicted wounds.

His biggest worry is the heated presidential primary battle between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, which threatens to leave a major portion of the party disappointed and possibly sitting on its hands in November 2008.

"It is the biggest variable we've got right now ... in the congressional elections," Mr. Van Hollen said Monday at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters. "This is the one little storm cloud on the horizon."

With very rare exceptions, a party that posts a major gain – as the Democrats did in 2006, picking up 30 House seats – loses ground in the next election. "I think we are poised in the House, the Democrats, to beat history in this congressional election.... We are in position this time around to actually pick up seats," Van Hollen said.

It is a view shared by nonpartisan analysts. Charlie Cook, of the Cook Political Report, wrote last week that his "pretty conservative" forecast is for a Democratic gain of five to 10 seats, "but the chance of bigger gains is much greater than the chance of smaller gain." One reason for Democrats' bright prospects is that many more Republican House members are retiring this year. An unpopular war and a lagging economy are other factors that tend to work against the party holding the White House.

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