Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland was the first Democratic leader to react to Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown's victory Tuesday night in the special election for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat from Massachusetts.
Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which faces an uphill fight to maintain the current Democratic advantage in Congress. Early forecasts about the 2010 election project a loss of 20 or more Democratic House seats in November, and some analysts have said the Democrats could lose their majority.
The Maryland Democrat attempted to shift attention away from Democratic candidate Martha Coakley's failed campaign and accusations by some Democrats that party leaders and President Barack Obama should have done more to prevent the loss of their 60th vote in the Senate.
Instead, Van Hollen zeroed in on the problems that Obama inherited when he took office a year ago after eight years of Republican President George W. Bush.
"Bush and House Republicans drove our economy into a ditch and tried to run away from the accident. President Obama and congressional Democrats have been focused [on] repairing the damage to our economy," Van Hollen said in a statement issued minutes after Brown's victory became apparent.
"Elections are about choices and this year's midterms will be a choice between continuing the economic progress and independent leadership that House Democrats are delivering for their districts versus Republicans who are eager to turn back the clock to the same failed Bush-Cheney policies that brought our economy to the brink of collapse," the Marylander said.
But Van Hollen also conceded the obvious: that Democrats face a "very challenging election cycle" in 2010. He said his committee, the party's main House campaign arm, is "not taking anything for granted."
The DCCC "is aggressively focused on ensuring House Democrats have the resources, strategy, message, and get-out-the-vote operation necessary to win in tough districts," according to Van Hollen, who also serves as a senior adviser to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.Republican National Chairman Michael Steele said Brown's "message of lower-taxes, smaller government, and fiscal responsibility clearly resonated with independent-minded voters in Massachusetts who were looking for a solution to decades of failed Democrat leadership. There is no doubt in my mind that Scott will provide the representation and leadership they have asked for and deserve."
The former Maryland lieutenant governor, picking up on a theme he has been pushing on national TV and in press statements, repeated his demand that the Senate "move quickly to seat Senator-Elect Brown so that the people have their chosen representative in the Senate as soon as possible."
Steele and other Republicans are concerned that Democrats may use the period between the election and official certification of Brown's victory to ram health care legislation through the Senate, before the 41st vote against Obama's agenda can take his seat. Democrats have said, however, that they have no plans to do that.
Steele, associating himself with recent Republican victories that figure to boost his own reputation, said that "independent voters in Virginia, New Jersey and now Massachusetts have made their voices heard by sending a clear message that they've had enough of the binge spending and government-growing agenda coming from Washington – Democrats everywhere are officially on notice."