WASHINGTON -- President Obama's party could lose its majority in the House of Representatives in this November's elections, his spokesman said Sunday, perhaps trying to jolt Democratic voters with the specter of Republican lawmakers rolling back White House policies.
"I think there's no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There's no doubt about that," press secretary Robert Gibbs told NBC television's "Meet the Press."
Democrats now hold a 255-178 edge in the House, with two vacancies in the 435-member chamber. Anywhere from 40 to perhaps 60 House seats could be competitive by the fall.
Republicans would need to take back about 40 seats to slip into the majority, placing the current Republican leader, Ohio Rep. John Boehner, in line to replace Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California as speaker.
Those House Democrats who won election for the first time in 2008 in conservative leaning districts as part of the Obama wave are particularly vulnerable this fall, given that the president is not on the ballot.
Gibbs said retaining House control would depend on strong campaigns by Democrats. "I think we have to take the issues to them," he said, adding that the primary argument would be how Republicans would govern as the majority party.
His remarks could be intended to light a fire under Democrats who are dispirited after about 18 months of Obama's presidency and motivate them to work hard to maintain their majorities in both the House and Senate. The party in power typically loses seats in the first midterm elections under a president, and Democrats are defending a slew of districts they picked up in 2006 and 2008.
The White House also could be working to lower expectations in case Democrats do lose their House majority.
Gibbs hit again on points that Obama has touched on in recent fundraising appearances: Texas Rep. Joe Barton's apology to BP for being pushed to set up a $20 billion fund for damages from the Gulf oil spill and Boehner's remark that suggested the effort to regulate Wall Street in the wake of the financial meltdown was tantamount to "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon."
"I think that's a perfect window not into what people are thinking but the way they would govern," Gibbs said. "Joe Barton, John Boehner, those are the types of things you'll hear a lot I think from both the president and from local candidates about what you'll get if the Republicans were to gain control."