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Charles Schumer Tries to Hitch GOP Fortunes to Tea Party

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Charles Schumer (right) believes growing dissatisfaction with the tea party movement will help Democrats and President Barack Obama at the polls in 2012.

Growing disenchantment with the tea party movement will keep President Barack Obama and Democrats afloat in 2012 despite a teetering economy and persistently high unemployment, Sen. Charles Schumer insisted Wednesday.

Republicans strongly disputed the New York Democrat’s interpretation of the tea party’s poll numbers and what they portend for an election likely to be defined by the presidential contest, particularly the incumbent. But Schumer — in a rosy rollout of his new Senate Democratic messaging strategy — was unabashedly optimistic, even predicting that Democrats would win a couple of GOP-held seats on their way to maintaining the majority.

“We are going to be labeling ‘tea party economics,’ ‘tea party double-dip recession,’ ‘tea party gridlock.’ And we think that that is going to have a real effect,” Schumer, the majority’s Conference vice chairman and chief messaging strategist, told a breakfast roundtable hosted by Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank. “It’s sort of a sword and a shield. A sword is our effort to create things on jobs and a shield pointing out that what is preventing us from moving forward on jobs is tea party economics.”

According to information compiled by the Democratic Policy and Communications Center run by Schumer, recent polling shows that negative views of the tea party are rising.

Some Republican political operatives concede that voters have mixed feelings about the tea party. But they ardently dismiss Schumer’s argument that a Congressional messaging strategy — even if jointly pushed by the White House — can obscure a 9 percent unemployment rate and stagnant economic growth under an administration and Senate that is controlled by the Democrats. Schumer, however, asserted: “We don’t control the Senate, and you write that, and it’s false.”

Democrats hold a four-seat advantage in the chamber. And with an electoral map that favors the GOP and the president’s approval rating hovering around
40 percent, Republicans laughed at Schumer’s tea party strategy while expressing confidence in their prospects for flipping the Senate.

“He’s the message meister for the Ds and I know he’d love to have that stick, but it’s just not consistent with reality,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “I think things are moving in the wrong direction for Democrats to stay in the majority. ... I definitely see a pathway to a majority.”

Democrats are defending 23 of the 33 Senate seats up in 2012, including several in swing and Republican states. Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), both running for re-election, appear to be feeling the heat, as they broke with their party Tuesday and joined Republicans in opposing a modified version of Obama’s jobs bill because it raises taxes and spends too much.

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