DNC Dispatch: Democrats in Denial

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 10:11 PM EDT

The silence hangs in the air, awkwardly, as if the reporters clad in suits and skirts don't quite know how to respond. It's 9:00 pm, election night, in the press' makeshift bullpen at the Democratic National Committee. Maryland's Chris Van Hollen, the sandy-haired leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the group with the Sisyphean task of averting a GOP takeover in Congress, stands at the center of a tight circle of reporters. He clenches a sheaf of rolled-up papers with both hands, like a big leagues baseball program, his face locked in a look of strained optimism.

Wait, the reporters all seem to wonder—does he really mean what he just said? That Democrats are set to "keep the [House] majority"?

Hence the silence. "Any questions?" Van Hollen finally asks, to no one in particular.

Reporter 1 breaks the silence: Do you think at this point, even with the races that have been called, that you can keep the majority? "Uh, yes," Van Hollen answers, somewhat unconvincingly. "I think if you look at the races that've been called, uh, those were the ones that were expected to be called earlier."

Reporter 2: Are you projecting how many seats you're going to lose at this point? Van Hollen doesn't flinch. "No," he replies. "Don't forget we also just picked one up in Delaware."

Reporter 3: Congressmen, we just called the House for the Republicans. "Well, I think that's a mistake. Way too early, and again, uh, I think it's a mistake and I think what you're seeing right is voters are continuing to go to the polls, and I think the verdict is out still." He pauses, thinks. Then insists, with his strongest tone yet, "I mean, New York hasn't even closed yet."

Reporter 4: In Indiana and Virginia, though, you've seen some losses there. Were you expecting those? "Uh, yes," he concedes, but then shoot backs, "and right now it looks like [Rep. Joe] Donnelly's up in Indiana." Donnelly's seat was a toss-up heading into today. (He ultimately held on to his seat.)

The two-and-a-half minutes are up. Van Hollen still grips his papers, holding on tight. That tense smile, it's still there. "Let's get through the night, and thank you all for being here," he said. "Stay tuned."

Minutes later, CNN's returns from a commercial break. Wolf Blitzer calls the House for the Republican Party.