Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine on Wednesday predicted Republican infighting will help his party maintain its congressional majorities, dismissing doomsday scenarios in November's midterm elections.
He said last year's unexpected losses in major races served as a "wake-up call" and that the health care victory and an immigration debate that favors Democrats will lead to a resurgence in the party's lagging poll numbers.
"We think we can do an awful lot better than the historic norm - and certainly better than what's been predicted by some of the doom-and-gloom prognosticators," he told reporters at a luncheon sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Mr. Kaine announced a $50 million outreach and education initiative to help candidates across the country.
The upbeat assessment belies mounting polling data that shows Democrats have lost their long-held edge on the generic congressional vote, President Obama's approval rating is hovering below 50 percent and independent voters, who helped fuel the party's historic victories in 2008, are fleeing.
Republican National Chairman Michael S. Steele rejected his counterpart's remarks.
"Chairman Kaine's new strategy smacks of desperation as it has become increasingly clear Democrats have lost the independents who will be the deciding voice this fall," Mr. Steele said.
"Even worse, as public approval of Obamacare continues to drop, it's obvious that Democrats have given up any hope of getting them back."
But Mr. Kaine and the White House remain confident the new health care law will pay dividends at the polls and that divisive Republican primaries will take their toll.
"We don't have a civil war going on in the Democratic Party," he said. "We know who our leader is. It's the president."
Mr. Kaine said the Republican Party is suffering from an identity crisis, citing the bruising GOP gubernatorial primary in Texas and the Florida Senate battle in particular.
Republican Gov. Charlie Crist's potential run for the U.S. Senate as an independent - an official confirmation is now expected Thursday - can only help the Democratic candidate, Kendrick Meek, Mr. Kaine said.
"In places like Florida and Texas, our chances are being improved by the corrosiveness on the other side."
Mr. Kaine said the "tea party" movement's impact on both parties would be tough to predict. "There is an energy there, and we have to take that seriously," he said. "But that energy can cut a lot of different ways."
He said losses in last year's governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia, followed by the surprising Republican victory in the contest for the late Edward M. Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, had served as an early "wake-up call" for Democrats.
"Absolutely, that was a Ghost-of-Christmas-Future experience for us," he said. "Painful as it was, it's better to have that in January than in November."
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