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Election 2012: Can Democrats retake the House?

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All along, Democrats had planned to hammer congressional Republicans over a plan by Mr. Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, to recast Medicare with greater private-sector participation. When Ryan joined the presidential ticket, Democratic strategists could barely contain their joy. It gave Democrats a "blow horn," as Congressman Israel calls it, to blast their message of "Medicare versus millionaires" (that Democrats will protect the former, Republicans the latter).

"We have work to do. We're not there yet, but we like where it's going," Israel says. "And we have the breeze at our backs."

But the drive for 25 is more likely to be the dash for a dozen. That's about how many seats analysts expect Republicans to lose, at most.

An election prediction model used by Jim Campbell, a University at BuffaloSUNY political science professor, forecasts between three and 14 seats shifting to Democrats. The number is based upon the relatively close balance of "seats in trouble" – Democrats have 15; Republicans, 21 – and the tightness of the presidential race.

Republicans believe they have a winning formulation for countering Democrats' Medicare arguments: President Obama's health-care law reduces future government spending on Medicare, the health-insurance program for seniors.

"There's only one party that has cut Medicare for current beneficiaries – that's the Democrats," Guy Harrison, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told re-porters at the party's national convention in August.

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