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The overhauled Democratic communications war room has emerged as an unofficial partner to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as the party tries to protect 17 incumbents up for re-election in 2012.
The DSCC and the Democratic Policy and Communications Center do not coordinate directly. But Democratic operatives said the DPCC — which is run by Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Vice Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) — was purposely constructed to run like a campaign organization with incumbent protection in mind. The DPCC provides communications advice and research services on major and local policy issues geared toward raising Members' standing with voters back home.
The messaging and research ultimately is parroted by the DSCC's political activity on behalf of Democratic incumbents and against Republicans. One senior Democratic Senate aide described the relationship this way: "The DPCC calls the plays on the Senate floor, and the DSCC handles the political follow-through."
DSCC Chairwoman Patty Murray, who also serves as Conference secretary, made it clear that the campaign committee and the DPCC work on "separate tracks." But the Washington state lawmaker did not dispute that the war room has been particularly useful to Democratic incumbents running for re-election.
"I would say for Democrats, that what the DPCC is doing under Schumer's direction — giving us a way to talk about the issues that resonate — is really important for us as a caucus," she said. "We don't coordinate."
The DPCC employs a regional communications director whose job is primarily to handle messaging for 2012 incumbents. Its policy arm handles research, pumping out information and statistics for legislation under consideration on the floor and in committee, as well as on other national and local issues relevant to Members. The DPCC was created by combining the old communications war room of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and the Democratic Policy Committee.
This month, DPCC strategy was on display in how Senate Democrats reacted to escalating energy costs. The communications team's approach involved legislative action and messaging to the press, all while allowing incumbents up in 2012 to take the lead and enjoy the spotlight.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sponsored a bill to eliminate subsidies for oil companies — Republicans called it a tax increase that would raise gas prices. The DPCC promoted the co-sponsors to the bill as well, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jon Tester (Mont.). The legislation failed in a Tuesday vote. Also this week, McCaskill asked for a federal investigation into gas prices. All four Senators face potentially difficult re-election bids.