(CNN) - Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is dialing down expectations for his party's performance in this year's midterm elections, predicting that the GOP will not retake the House in 2010.
Speaking to Fox News host Sean Hannity Monday night, Steele suggested the Democrats' current 79-seat advantage in the chamber is too big a hurdle to overcome.
"We are beginning to do assessments on the individual races, but I think overall, given what this administration's proclivities are, we are going to see nice pick ups in the House," he said.
But asked directly if the party had a shot at taking over the House, Steele responded: "Not this year."
But a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee vigorously disagreed with Steele's assessment, saying the GOP has a "very real shot" at wining the chamber.
"The NRCC's goal...has always been to recapture the majority in 2010," spokesman Ken Spain said. "Independent political analysts and even liberal columnists have stated that Republicans have a very real shot at taking back the majority in 2010. Make no mistake about it, we are playing to win."
Given the current Democratic majority, Republicans would need to win at least 40 seats to regain control of the chamber - a sizeable but not unprecedented number. In the historic 1994 midterm elections, 54 seats switched from Democratic to Republican. Steele declined to give a number on how many seats he is hoping to take from the Democrats.
While it is common for party leaders to downplay expectations ahead of an election cycle, congressional Democrats are pouncing on Steele's prediction.
"If the NRCC hasn't convinced the Republican National Committee chairman they can win, it's no wonder that Tea Party activists, Republican small donors, and Republican House Members are not confident and have failed to invest in the NRCC," said Jennifer Crider, Democratic Congressional Committee spokeswoman.