WASHINGTON -- A top Democrat predicted his party will retake the House majority in midterm elections this fall, starting with a special election next month in Florida's 13th District.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said he expects Democratic candidate Alex Sink to overpower Republican David Jolly in the Tampa-area seat that was held by for more than 40 years by Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died last year.
If Sink were to win, he said, it would be a "big deal" for the party -- a "harbinger" of what is to come this fall.
Hoyer acknowledged that his assessment may be more optimistic than that of others. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report calls the swing seat race a "tossup." Sink, the state's former chief financial officer, faces a tough climb against Jolly, a former congressional aide turned lobbyist, amid President Obama's low approval rating in Florida.
Most strategists believe the midterm election fight this fall is over the Senate, and that the House will remain in GOP control.
But Hoyer, the party whip, said Democrats are raising more money than Republicans and are running on issues such as minimum wage and unemployment insurance extensions that appeal to wide majorities of Americans.
"All of those combine, in my view, and give me great optimism we're going to win back the House," Hoyer said during a round-table meeting with reporters at his office in the Capitol.
It's no secret that Hoyer has long wanted to wield the speaker's gavel, but he squashed talk of any plans to try to wrest the top leadership position from his longtime Democratic rival -- and friend -- Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, the minority leader. His best shot at becoming speaker would be in 2024, he said, only partly joking. Both leaders are expected to stay put.
The Cook Political Report said it is "unlikely" Democrats will pick up the 17 seats this fall needed to flip control of the House.
And several high-profile House Democrats, such as Henry A. Waxman of Beverly Hills, have announced they plan to retire after this session, a sign that they don't expect the chamber to be in Democratic hands anytime soon.