Salena Zito

Democrats were remarkably unprepared for the discontent that dislodged them from running the U.S. House last year, a sentiment that began in the summer of 2009.

Pete Sessions, the Texas congressman charged with retaining today’s Republican majority, says he will not repeat that mistake.

“I am listening to people,” he said, bursting into an empty boardroom as if he’d rather be walking onto a football field to go over plays with his team.

He’d better be ready, because he’s looking at the same numbers the Democrats’ leader, Nancy Pelosi, saw in early 2010; Gallup’s latest poll shows only 24 percent believe their congressman deserves to keep his or her job.

Those numbers could indicate a country heading into the same volatile election pattern that swung the House 100-plus seats in either direction and seated, unseated, then re-seated one U.S. president in the late 19th century, all in a little over five years.

Most experts today are not convinced that Democrats can retake the House, at least not yet.

Not that voters are enamored with Republicans; they just have total distaste for one party dominating Washington.

“It is a tall order for the Democrats to take back the House, especially considering the bad economy and a president with under 50 percent approval,” said Mark Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University.

If those factors remain in place, look for Democrats to run away from President Obama's policies next year, much as Republicans did in 1992 after President George H.W. Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge.

A lot can change in a year, according to Rozell, but “if economic circumstances don't start to point in a positive direction, the math doesn't show a way for the Democrats to take back the gavel for Pelosi.”

As chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Sessions plans to hold the seats that Republicans won in 2010 and to add 16 more.

“Sessions’ goal is optimistic,” said Rozell. “Without a lot of competitive districts, turning 16 or more seats for the GOP will be extremely difficult.”

Sessions is paid well to aim high but, realistically, a lot of variables will all have to break his way to hit 16.

Yet he also knows about beating expectations: When he took the stage a couple of weeks after Obama’s inauguration, in front of a deflated GOP House membership, he boldly pledged to take back the House.

“It was my job,” he beams, remembering the collective eye-rolls.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.