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House Democratic Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, poses for a picture with Lorena Barrera, a member of the Young Democrats, , right, during the 2013 Democratic Party state convention in Sacramento, Calif., Saturday, April 13, 2013. California Democrats are meeting this weekend to celebrate their November election victories and look ahead to next year, when they hope to solidify their grip on state politics. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Listening to the rhetoric at last weekend's California Democratic Party convention, one might have thought that the 2012 national elections produced a clean sweep for the party.

To be sure, President Barack Obama handily won re-election, and Democrats dashed Republican hopes of taking control of the U.S. Senate by not only holding their ground but by gaining two seats.

And, yes, those results sent Republicans nationwide into a paroxysm of self-evaluation that has since led the national party to issue an "autopsy" dissecting what went wrong.

But there is also the matter of the House of Representatives.

At their convention a year ago, California Democrats were fired up about the prospect of regaining control of the House, and how their state could lead the way. Nationwide, Democrats needed to pick up 25 seats, and that seemed possible if California could do its part and produce a handful of the gains.

Well, California did its part. Democrats picked up four seats here.

In the end, however, that represented exactly half of the paltry eight-seat dent inflected on the Republican majority nationwide.

Those results underscored the radical disconnect between what is happening politically in California and what is happening in much of the rest of the nation.


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There are now 22 states in which Republicans exercise total control over state government, holding majorities in both legislative houses and the governorship. That dominance contributed to redistricting measures that gerrymandered House districts to favor Republicans.

Those gerrymanders, combined with the demographic phenomenon of so many Democrats being clustered into overwhelmingly blue urban districts, created a national playing field in which Democrats collectively received more than 1 million more votes in House races, yet the results yielded a 17-seat Republican majority.

The playing field is such that some analysts, including The New York Times political data guru Nate Silver, suggest that Republicans now hold a structural majority in the House that could be secure for years to come.

Yet, there was Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco speaking to California Democrats on Saturday and once again talking about "taking back the House" in 2014.

During a brief Q&A with reporters, I asked Pelosi what she thought of the analyses that suggest Republicans now hold a structural majority in the House.

Unsurprisingly, she said she "completely and categorically" rejects that theory.

Pelosi offered some plausible counterarguments. For one, she noted that the Democratic gains in 2012 came mostly in states in which the presidency was not in play -- five gains in Illinois along with the four in California, for example. Democrats fared poorly, however, in some battleground states, including losing three seats in North Carolina.

Democrats did well, she argued, in those states in which the focus was on congressional seats, but not so well in those states in which "the priority was that the president must be re-elected."

In 2014, she said, the legislative races will "own the ground" in every state, improving Democrats' focus on House races.

She also noted that new, court-directed redistricting plans are likely to be in effect in 2014 in the big states of Texas and Florida, perhaps reducing the Republicans' gerrymander advantage.

Pelosi said she sees an opportunity for additional gains in California. In fact, there is a great opportunity in San Bernardino County's 31st District, where a fluke result from the top-two primary produced two Republicans running against each other last fall in a district in which Democrats hold a 7 percentage-point advantage among registered voters.

But more problematic in Pelosi's home state will be the challenge of maintaining the party's gains. There were seven House races in California last year decided by less than 10 percentage points; Democrats won five. There were two decided by less than five points; Democrats won them both.

That means most of the vulnerable incumbents in California next year will be Democrats.

Even if all the California incumbents hold on, can Democrats possibly win the House in 2014?

"I can't tell you today that we will win," Pelosi said. "I can tell you in six months, after we know the candidates. We have to make the fight."

Later that afternoon, at a luncheon honoring the winners in California's congressional battleground districts, Rep. Scott Peters of San Diego issued a partisan battle cry for 2014.

"Let's keep the seats we won last year, and let's go find some more," he said.

That exhortation played well in a roomful of deep-blue partisans. But an objective response would have been more skeptical.

In today's national political landscape, just where are Democrats going to find them?