Steve Israel, new DCCC chairman, ready to go on 'offense' for House Democrats

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 19, 2010; 7:02 PM

Steve Israel is doing everything he can to put last month's midterms behind him - and fast.

"You cannot win an uphill battle by looking over your shoulder," said Israel, the New York congressman who will lead House Democrats' campaign arm for the 2012 election. "The past is past."

It's understandable why Israel would want to forget the 63-seat loss - including six districts in the Empire State alone - that Democrats endured on Nov. 2, a defeat that cost them the majority heading into the 112th Congress.

Those same defeats, however, have created opportunities for Israel that past Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairmen have not enjoyed.

"We went from playing defense to playing offense," he said. "I love playing offense."

As evidence of that approach, Israel notes that his newly formed recruitment team met Thursday to sketch out early targets, and he and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) will hit the road this week to scout out possible candidates. (Israel will be in Arizona; Schwartz in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.)

Israel rattles off the facts and figures that he insists can add up to the 25 seats Democrats need to win back the majority in two years.

Sixty-one districts under Republican control in the next Congress went for Barack Obama in 2008. Fourteen of those were also carried by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, Israel noted. Win just those 14, and Democrats are more than halfway to majority status.

"We have a wind at our back," Israel said.

It may not be so easy, however.

The decennial redistricting process - in which congressional district lines are redrawn - is set to begin Tuesday when the Census Bureau releases its final list of states that are gaining and losing seats.

Major Republican victories at the state legislative level in the midterm elections have handed complete control of the re-mapping process to the GOP in 195 districts, compared with just 49 for Democrats. (The remaining 191 districts have split party control.)

Israel argues that the Republican-redistricting-dominance story line is overplayed because the party picked up so many seats this fall, not only making it tougher for the GOP to draw Democrats out of districts but also creating potential intraparty squabbles over the lines.

All of the aggressive talk - and action - in Israel's first two weeks as DCCC chairman is designed to counter the idea that Democrats are relegated to permanent minority status in the House.

"My initial job is to make sure the House is in play," he said, adding that he is "extremely confident" and "absolutely certain" that he can make that happen.

A portrait in Israel's new office may be the most telling symbol of the approach he is taking to the job. It's of Little Round Top, a Civil War skirmish in which a small force of Union soldiers turned back Confederate troops despite being badly outmanned.

"A small group of people facing superior resources just fixed bayonets and charged," Israel said of the scene. "Over the past few weeks, we have fixed our bayonets and charged."

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