ST. LOUIS (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden boldly predicted Friday that voters would reject a “Republican tea party” of extreme candidates and Democrats would retain control of Congress this November.
In a pep talk for the party’s rank and file, the vice president challenged the widespread notion that significant losses in House races, and perhaps the Senate, could cost the party its comfortable majorities — a possibility White House press secretary Robert Gibbs suggested last month before saying Democrats will hang onto the House.
“On Nov. 3 … there will be in Washington, D.C., a Democratic majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate. That will be the case,” Biden said in a speech to the Democratic National Committee. And, he said, Democrats will do better than expected in gubernatorial races, too.
“If it weren’t illegal, I’d make book on it,” Biden quipped.
All 435 House seats, 37 in the Senate and 37 governors races are on the line.
Bowing to economic reality, Biden said voters’ anger and frustration was understandable given persistently high unemployment and a sluggish recovery. But he also expressed confidence that once voters focus on the elections, they will stick with President Barack Obama because “the choice is between Democrats and the Republican tea party. It’s between Democrats and the party of repeal and repeat.”
“They’re offering more of the past but on steroids,” Biden said, castigating “the Republican tea party” as “out of step with where the American people are.”
The DNC was holding a two-day meeting to get a status report on preparations for the midterm elections and approve changes to the 2012 presidential primary calendar and nominating convention.
Obama’s party laid out the crux of its argument Friday in a new ad set to run on cable: “This fall, America faces a big choice: Do we continue to move forward like the Democrats are doing? … Or do we go back to the same Republican policies that got us into this mess?”
The ad then shows former President George W. Bush saying, “we can’t get fooled again.”
Biden and other top party officials sought to energize dispirited members of the party as it faces extraordinarily difficult challenges heading into the election-year homestretch. Leading Democrats expressed optimism that the party’s financial might, voter turnout operations and the GOP’s governing track record — which they call poor — will help stem widespread losses on Nov. 2.
“The midterms will be tough,” Chairman Tim Kaine told party members. But, he added: “Tough is who we are. Tough is what we do.” He dismissively called Republicans “the easy streeters and the country clubbers.”
Kaine also expressed optimism, saying: “There’s a lot of doom and gloom about it, but I think we’re going to do a lot better than people think.” He pointed to strong July fundraising — an $11.5 million haul leaving Democrats with $10.8 million in the bank — and a proven get-out-the-vote operation built upon the success of the 2008 presidential election that delivered Obama the White House.
“We need to mobilize our army once again. We’ve won some impressive battles in the last 18 months but we still haven’t won this war,” Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, told the gathering. “We can’t go back, we won’t give up and we should never retreat.”
And Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill told party members to redouble their efforts to defeat Republicans: “You’re the gears of this operation. So get them unstuck!”
Privately, some Democrats attending the St. Louis meeting fretted that the political environment may be getting even more difficult for the party in power, with dour economic news seeming to pile up with each passing day. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that the number of people applying for unemployment benefits reached the half-million mark last week for the first time since November.
The committee approved changes to the 2012 presidential primary calendar. It’s likely Obama will run for re-election and be renominated. Even so, the party sought to fix the system after the protracted 2008 primary.
The DNC signed off on the panel’s plan that would push back the start of the nominating season and all but mirror the schedule the Republican National Committee approved earlier this month.
Democrats will hold the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 6, 2012, and the New Hampshire primary eight days later, on Feb. 14. Nevada caucuses will be Feb. 18 and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 28. All other states will hold their primaries and caucuses March 6 or later.
States that hold their primaries later in the 2012 calendar year will get anywhere from 5 to 20 percent more delegates to the convention.
The party also limited the influence of the independent superdelegates in choosing the party’s nominee by reducing their numbers, from 20 percent of the total number of delegates to 15 percent. Superdelegates are the members of Congress, governors and party elders who can back candidates regardless of how their states vote.