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Who had the worst week in Washington? Rep. Chris Van Hollen

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By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, November 7, 2010

Back in November 2008, when Maryland's Rep. Chris Van Hollen signed on for a second term as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he had every reason to be optimistic.

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Obama had just swept into office with 365 electoral votes, and Van Hollen had presided over the addition of 24 House seats to the Democratic majority. The political world was his oyster.

Turns out that oyster was bad.

Van Hollen watched Tuesday night as his party was decimated at the ballot box, losing more seats than either party has lost in a midterm since 1938, and with them, the House majority.

In the process, Van Hollen became one of the public faces of Democratic defeat - even though it's hard to imagine how anyone in his position could have done any better. In addition to historical midterm trends that pointed to major attrition, Democrats found themselves facing an electorate unhappy with the direction of the country and the state of the economy. Can you say political powder keg?

Making matters worse, Van Hollen was a victim of his own success. In 2008, he led House Democrats - who had already won scads of seats in 2006 - on an incursion into heavily Republican territory. The result? Forty-eight Democratic incumbents in districts that John McCain won in the presidential race. Not good.

If presiding over the loss of at least 60 seats wasn't enough, Van Hollen's own future in the House is also uncertain. He won't be back as DCCC chairman, and if soon-to-be-former-Speaker Nancy Pelosi happens to fail in her bid to stay on as minority leader, it's not clear whether there will be a place for him in the party leadership. (The fact that fellow Marylander and current House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer seems likely to hold onto a leadership position doesn't exactly help Van Hollen's case.)

Chris Van Hollen, for having to shoulder the blame for a loss that really wasn't your fault, you had the Worst Week in Washington.

Congrats, or something.

Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail chris.cillizza@wpost.com with your nominees.


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