Hoyer: Democrats face 'tough road' in House races

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Ann Arbor — House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Democrats will have a successful year if they can prevent Republicans from picking up additional seats.

"It's a tough road. Obviously, the president's numbers are such that we're not getting a lot of boost from the president at this point in time, which in many respects I think it is unfair — the economy is doing much, much better," the Maryland Democrat said in an interview before an event with college Democrats at the University of Michigan on Tuesday. "The reality is we see the poll numbers and the poll numbers are tough. The good news is we have some extraordinarily good candidates."

The Maryland Democrat this week was wrapping up his 93rd and final visit to House districts across the country over the last two years to campaign for Democrats. All 435 House members face re-election and one-third of the Senate faces re-election.

"I think we can hold our own," said Hoyer, holding out hope that Democrats could pick up some seats. Historically, the party that holds the presidency typically loses seats in a midterm election. Since 1938, the party controlling the presidency has picked up seats in the House just twice in midterm elections. "I think if we pickup seats it will be a victory — Republicans expect to pick up 14 seats — so if we pick up seats +I think that will be a victory for us."

Hoyer — the second highest ranking House Democrat — was in town to tout Debbie Dingell's candidacy to replace her husband in Congress. She is running against Terry Bowman, a Ford Motor Co. worker from Ypsilanti Township who advocated right to work legislation, and has heavily out-fundraised him and is ahead in polls.

Hoyer was also in Michigan to tout former state Rep. Pam Byrnes, a Chelsea Democrat who is running against Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton. Hoyer also said retired general Jerry Cannon has a good shot to defeat Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls.

Hoyer noted that about 10,800 people have served in the history of the U.S. House — and said Debbie Dingell is one the top five candidates with the deepest understanding of how Congress works, the members. "Debbie is going to be an extraordinary member," Hoyer said, saying she will be able to work with members of both parties. "She essentially comes with decades of experience."

Dingell, a member of the Wayne State board of trustees and a member of the Democratic National Committee, is seeking to replace her husband, who is retiring after a record-setting 59 years in Congress.

Dingell — who is suffering through a case of laryngitis — said in the interview that she isn’t yet thinking about what committees she’d like to serve on if elected.

“I’m staying focused on next Tuesday,” Dingell said.

Dingell said she is focused on working as hard as she can to reach voters before Tuesday.

“I take nothing for granted and I am just working very, very hard," she said.

Hoyer said Democrats need to convince voters to get to the polls. Democrats historically skip midterm elections at a higher rate than Republicans. President Barack Obama will be in Detroit Saturday night to convince Michigan residents to vote, while AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka will be in the state Friday and Saturday in a bid to get union members and others to the ballot box.

"If people come out and people vote, Democrats will win because on almost every issue that the Congress confronts, the majority of the American people are on our side of the issue," Hoyer said, citing calls for a higher minimum wage, comprehensive immigration reform, extending emergency unemployment insurance, extending the Export-Import bank.

But Hoyer noted the woeful approval ratings of Congress. "If you look at who is the least unpopular — none of us are popular — Republicans are 10 points behind us," Hoyer said.

Republicans currently hold a 233-199 lead in the House, and some experts think the GOP will pick up another six to 12 seats. If Republicans pick up 13 seats, they will hold their largest majority since 1928, when Herbert Hoover was elected president.

He said Democrats losing the 2010 election hurt because redistricting in some states has hurt the party because of Republicans packing Democrats into fewer seats in a practice known as gerrymandering.

"It creates districts where a member only has to listen to one side," Hoyer said. "It makes us very tough for us to win because so many of the seats now are one party or the other."