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House Democrats were licking their wounds after bruising midterm elections when they decamped to Cambridge, Md., last year for their annual retreat. This year, Members predict a better time on the Eastern Shore as they hone their message on jobs and the economy going into the 2012 elections.
"Democrats are more excited," Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.) said, referring to a new National Journal poll that gave the edge to Democrats when respondents were asked whom they would prefer to control the House. "I think from the Democratic point of view, our prospects are looking up. Not a bad way to begin the new year."
But the new year also marks historic lows for Congress' approval rating and a grim outlook for legislative productivity.
Despite those obstacles, Democrats plan to spend three days at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa & Marina participating in panels under the theme "Reignite the American Dream."
According to a draft of the agenda, the retreat is "intended to highlight those goals and help prepare members of the caucus to continue to fight to restore jobs to the millions left behind by the Great Recession."
The Democratic retreat comes one week after Republicans spent three days in Baltimore crafting their own playbook and setting out to avoid the kind of infighting that muddled their messaging last year.
The Democratic minority hasn't had the same messaging challenges, but Congressional Democrats had communication difficulties with the White House last year and the party is seeking to regain control of the House in the same election cycle that President Barack Obama is running largely by contrasting himself with an unpopular Congress. Obama did not attend the Democratic retreat last year, and Members said his appearance in Cambridge this year is an opportunity for the party to coalesce behind similar messages.
"I want to hear from him, I think, the same thing that I want to hear from him" in the State of the Union speech, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said during his weekly briefing with reporters Tuesday.
The Maryland Democrat said the president should touch on themes of bipartisanship to solve fiscal problems but that he should also drive home the oft-repeated line that high-income earners should pay more in taxes.
"Some American citizens will have to make an additional contribution, but we are in a position, luckily, where sacrifice is not going to be necessary," Hoyer said.