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Democrats in Search of a Fiery Speech

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is embracing President Barack Obama’s efforts to contrast his presidency with the performance of Congress.

Last year, Democrats across the Capitol feared the president would move too far to the center to placate a new and large Republican majority in the House. They worried a badly bruised president, rebuked by the 2010 midterm elections, would throw their own interests under the bus.

But a lot has changed since then. Just last month, Democrats found themselves on the winning side of a fight over the payroll tax cut, and that has given them new confidence as the president heads into what could be one of the most important speeches of his career.

Senate Democrats, the group that has the most to lose in 2012, are keeping quiet before Obama’s big speech. They have fewer demands this time around, though Senate sources familiar with the White House’s thinking on the address indicate he will hammer home issues important to them: the full-year payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits extension; issues of economic fairness; the unfinished pieces of Obama’s jobs bill, chiefly infrastructure; and more criticism of the Supreme Court’s 2010 campaign finance ruling that led to the increased influence of super PACs.

Now more than ever, Democrats acknowledge they will again need Obama’s coattails if they are to hold on to the Senate and make gains in the House, so they hope Tuesday night will be one of a united party front and soaring political rhetoric.

Democrats might not be able to rebottle that rare 2008 hope and enthusiasm, but they are angling to energize their base in an election that may come down to which party’s base is least disgruntled with its leaders.

During an appearance on MSNBC on Friday, Rep. Loretta Sanchez said it’s important for the president to point to the accomplishments made under Congressional Democrats when they were in control of both chambers.

“We accomplished a lot when Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives and we had President Obama with us,” the California Democrat said. “There’s a sharp contrast between what we did then ... versus sort of do-nothing, which is what’s going on in Congress right now.”

Of course, not everyone wants Obama to go negative or hit Republicans.

With Congress beginning the new year with a record-low 13 percent approval rating, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, moderates contend that Obama’s message should be more conciliatory.

“The Congress needs to work with the president to accomplish something in 2012,” retiring Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) said. “I’m hoping the president says, ‘Look, not everything is expected from Washington in an election year, but we can’t continue on in this regard.’”

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