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Top Democrat Insists Party Will Hold Senate — But Turnout Is Key

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz speaks to party members during their meeting last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Ross D. Franklin
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz speaks to party members during their meeting last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz.

As increasingly confident Republican leaders predict big midterm election gains, the head of Democratic National Committee put on her game face Tuesday and insisted the party will hold control of the Senate.

The Democrats' grass-roots organization, said Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and what she characterized as the GOP's continuing alienation of women, minority, LGBT and middle-class voters, bodes well for her party this fall.

"Our best weapon may just be Republicans themselves," said Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the DNC, at a press conference. Her remarks came moments after her GOP counterpart, meeting with reporters across town, predicted a Republican "tsunami" in November.

When asked about Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus' self-assured comments, Wasserman Schultz grinned.

"I really hope my counterpart remains bullish," she said, noting that Republicans in 2012 were predicting until the "polls closed" that GOP nominee Mitt Romney would be the next president.

It's been that kind of 24 hours in the nation's capital, where Monday GOP leaders in press calls and cable television interviews touted gains (better technology, more minority outreach) made in the year since its 2012 losses.

Priebus, during a Tuesday morning breakfast meeting with reporters, sounded more than bullish about his party's chances this fall, including an increasingly plausible scenario of winning control of the Senate.

"I think we're in for a tsunami-type election in 2014," Priebus said at the long-running newsmakers event, sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "My belief is that it's going to be a very big win, especially at the U.S. Senate level, and I think we may even add some seats in the congressional races."

Wasserman Schultz's event at the National Press Club, where Republicans one year ago presented the results of an "autopsy" of their 2012 losses and proposals for the future, was designed to push back on the GOP's narrative of a party undergoing transformation.

"In a rare moment of self-awareness, Republican leaders admitted that the party was alienating huge swaths of voters," Wasserman Schultz said, calling her appearance an "autopsy of an autopsy."

"But a year later," she said, "all the Republican Party has gotten is a year older."

At times sarcastic, the Florida congresswoman corralled a herd of derogatory statements Republicans have made in the past year about women, Latinos, African-Americans and gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans. And she asserted that the rhetoric is matched by party policy.

"The GOP has failed to change their actions of tone from the party that in 2012 told immigrants they should 'self-deport' and women that they had the ability to 'shut the whole thing down' when raped," she said.

But Wasserman Schultz tried to steer clear of the party's loss last week in a closely watched Florida special election, preferring to focus on Democrat Terry McAuliffe's November gubernatorial win in Virginia. And she sought to avoid the politics of President Obama and his signature health care law, which tops the GOP's campaign issues list, altogether.

(The RNC actually beat Wasserman Schultz to her own press conference, handing out to reporters a press release noting that "running on Obamacare" is among the things it asserts the "DNC is not doing" this election cycle.)

At its core, Wasserman Schultz's counterprogramming was about rallying the party's traditional base by reminding those voters why they should care this midterm election year.

"The bottom line," she said, "is we've gotta turn voters out. When Democratic voters turn out, Democratic candidates win."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.