For Hoyer, All Signs Point to Democratic Pickups

Pointing to hoped-for gains in upcoming special elections, renewed vigor in Texas House races and the nation’s evolving political mood, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is painting an ever-rosier political picture for House Democrats heading into the 2004 elections.

Hoyer, speaking to reporters at a political roundtable Friday, stopped short of saying Democrats would win the 13 seats needed to retake the House. But the Maryland lawmaker, who helps lead the Democratic Caucus’ recruiting effort, said the party’s chances appear better than they did even three months ago as the public begins questioning the GOP’s credibility on the war and a failing economy.

“I see in the country people are disaffected by what’s going on and by the Bush administration and how the Congress of the United States is being run,” Hoyer said.

In part, Hoyer pinned newfound hopes on recent polling showing the vulnerability of the administration as well as a Democratic presidential primary that has boosted Democratic voters’ enthusiasm and energy. While he stopped short of making an endorsement, Hoyer said the frontrunner for nomination, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), will wage a strong fight against Bush, saying he is “a guy who isn’t going to be easily caricatured.”

Hoyer acknowledged there are fewer competitive seats in play this cycle due to redistricting, but said there is an upside to the situation: The party can focus its resources — financially and politically — more narrowly. He also said Democrats are crafting a message to take to voters that will focus on how they would run the House more fairly and what they would do in the majority on core issues of jobs, taxes, health care and education.

When asked, however, if he could be more specific, Hoyer said, “not yet.” Democrats were harshly criticized following their unsuccessful showing in the 2002 elections for lacking a coherent message, which Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has vowed she wouldn’t allow again.

In laying out a case for the new Democratic momentum, Hoyer pointed to the party’s chances for wins in the upcoming Kentucky and South Dakota special elections, and a potential victory in Louisiana if and when Rep. Billy Tauzin (R) steps down. He also named seats in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, New Mexico, Washington and Kentucky where he believes Democrats can knock of GOP incumbents.

Hoyer added that he is even becoming more hopeful that Democrats can compete under a newly drawn Texas district map, which made many of the party’s incumbents vulnerable.

Even though Texas Democratic incumbents are far from safe, Hoyer said, they aren’t giving up. He said he and other party leaders will donate and encourage others in the Caucus to contribute the maximum amount to the Texas Democrats this cycle.

“The Texas Democrats have decided to suck it up and go down their throats and fight to the end,” Hoyer said, specifically noting he believes Reps. Martin Frost, Max Sandlin, Chet Edwards, Charlie Stenholm and Nick Lampson have a decent chance at surviving.

“I am much more optimistic we can hold on to three or four of those five than I was,” Hoyer said.

The Minority Whip, who has raised more than $1 million for Democratic candidates this cycle, said he believes Democrats still have a shot at recruiting another five to 10 candidates for the House. Prospective candidates are rethinking runs because of the changing mood around the country, and the fact that Republicans are being questioned on credibility and experiencing divisions in their own party on key issues of deficit spending and the budget.

“I think Republicans are amazed at how quickly their advantage has eroded nationally,” Hoyer said. “I think the Republican psyche is damaged.”

That will continue to play out once Democrats have a nominee, who appear to be Kerry, Hoyer said.

Hoyer said Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran, can easily compete against Bush on national security and defense issues, and can win over voters on the domestic front. Kerry will also play strong in districts where Democrats haven’t in recent cycles because of his war experience, Hoyer said.

“They are not going to ‘Cleland’ Kerry,” Hoyer said, referring to Republican efforts to paint then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), a veteran injured in Vietnam, as unpatriotic in the 2002 elections. “As Kerry says, ‘Bring it on.’ He’s ready for it.”