House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Washington Post Tuesday that her goal is to win 25 seats this November -- a bold statement given that historical trends suggest that the party of a sitting president usually loses seats in the sixth year of his term. Political forecasters generally agree that Republicans will expand their majority in November.
Looking solely at generic-ballot polls, Democrats look like they're in pretty good shape in 2014, enjoying consistent advantages over Republicans for most of the year. Of course, the problem is that the generic-ballot polls mask every pertinent detail: structural factors, geographic imbalance, gerrymandered districts, voter-suppression efforts, and the nagging fact that Democratic voters don't like to show up for midterm elections.
That last point appears to be an area of acute concern to party leaders. President Obama himself said last week that "one challenge that I always offered to Democrats is we do have one congenital disease, which is we're not very good during off-year elections."
And yet, with 111 days to go, congressional Democratic officials remain "absolutely" confident.
Democrats will need a net gain of 17 seats, which is no small task given the circumstances.
"We're playing in about 70 districts," Pelosi told the Post. "Twenty-five is my goal -- I would like that. Seventeen is our must. I think we win 17 of those seats. We won 16 in the last election, but we lost eight. As [DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)] says, you don't add by subtracting. Nobody knows. Nobody knows."
What Pelosi does know, however, is that there's probably value in letting voters know what Democrats would do with the ability to govern.
To that end, House Democrats this morning unveiled a "100 Day Action Plan" -- presumably letting voters know what Dems would tackle in their first 100 days -- intended to "jumpstart the middle class." The agenda includes a minimum-wage increase, investments in infrastructure and education, and contraception access.
Whether or not that gets Democrats engaged remains to be seen, but it's hard not to notice that Republicans appear to be going out of their way to help generate more progressive activism. What's the GOP message been of late? Opposition to contraception, opposition to immigration, presidential impeachment, Dick Cheney maintaining a near-constant media presence, and a vow to take families' health care benefits away.
I don't know if anything can properly treat the party's "congenital disease," but if Republican antics aren't motivating Democrats to get engaged this year, I suspect nothing will.