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CAMBRIDGE, Md. — House Democrats rolled out of the Eastern Shore on Friday emphasizing unity and a message focused on the middle class that they are increasingly optimistic will return them to the majority in November.
While the three-day gathering was attended by about 100 of the Caucus’ 190 Members, lawmakers in attendance maintained there was a broad consensus behind the message “Reigniting the American Dream.” Just like the “Six for ’06” campaign that thrust Democrats into the majority in 2006, this year’s messaging strategy offers something for Democrats of every ideological stripe, Members said.
“How we phrase it and what we emphasize will of course be different,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition. “But we’ll all be talking about the middle class, about helping small businesses.”
The upbeat mood that Members described inside the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay resort was a far cry from the atmosphere a year ago, when Democrats decamped to the same locale to lick their wounds after bruising 2010 elections. After a year in the minority, Democrats said they have had the time to reflect on the best message going into this election year and will be more aggressive in promoting it marching into November.
“We embarked on a long process in 2011 to think through the questions of who we are and what we’re for,” Rep. Robert Andrews (N.J.) said. “We know who we are, but in this age of communication we need to succinctly say that. We’re really spending a lot of time on that, and that is really coming to fruition.”
Members were more bullish about their chances of regaining the majority this year and said having President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket will help, even though the central theme of his campaign is likely to be an attack on a do-nothing Congress. The institution’s public approval ratings have reached a historic low, and Democrats are betting that Republicans will receive the blame.
“What’s important is the danger to the American people of the continuation of a Republican do-nothing Congress,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said during a leadership news conference at the Eagle’s Nest, a restaurant on the grounds of the resort that doubled as a media filing center. “I think it’s not only OK for the president to run against a do-nothing [Congress], I encourage it.”
Speaking to the Caucus on Friday, Obama offered his own praise of Pelosi and referred to her as the “soon-to-be, once-again Speaker of the House.” Touching on similar themes from his State of the Union address, Obama blasted GOP leaders and encouraged Members on the campaign trail to tout legislative accomplishments from when Democrats were in the House majority.
“We righted the ship,” Obama told the crowd. “We did not tip into a Great Depression. The auto industry was saved. Credit started flowing to small businesses again. And over the last 22 months, we have seen 3 million jobs created, the most jobs last year since 2005. ... A lot of that has to do with the tough decisions that you took.”
As Republicans prepare to defend their majority in the House, they no doubt will make issues such as health care reform and Pelosi’s leadership central to their attacks on Democratic candidates. In a statement, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said the Democrats’ “chest-thumping relies on the suspension of disbelief.”
“Between retirements in Republican-heavy seats and House Democrats that are saddled with the albatross of a failed Obama economic agenda, Nancy Pelosi’s campaign for the Speaker’s chair gets steeper by the day,” Lindsay added.
The retirements of southern Democrats such as Reps. Mike Ross (Ark.) and Brad Miller (N.C.) make the party’s climb to win 25 seats in November far steeper. And although the party could pick up seats in states such as California and Illinois, the math to get to the magic number of 25 still seems fuzzy.
Still, aides boast that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has recruited strong candidates in districts throughout the country. On Friday, the DCCC announced it outraised the NRCC by nearly $7 million last year, although the NRCC ended December with more cash on hand.
Democrats also predicted that infighting between conservative and moderate Republicans in the House this year will lead to legislative disasters for the GOP that will play into their hands. Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) said Republicans were holding legislation “hostage to their extreme agenda,” while Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said the party is pushing partisan priorities such as the Keystone XL pipeline project that could scuttle an extension of the payroll tax credit that expires next month.
“I hope our Republican colleagues, many of whom are on record being against the payroll [tax] cut for 160 million Americans, I hope they’re not going to use these issues to slow down the process and stop that tax cut,” said Van Hollen, who is a member of the conference committee charged with extending the tax cut and unemployment insurance, among other things.
As they sought to point out fissures in the Republican Conference, the sometimes-divided Democratic Caucus maintained it’s singing the same tune. Lawmakers presented Obama with a CD featuring their own rendition of the Al Green song “Let’s Stay Together,” giving it to him ahead of his speech. Participating in strategy sessions led by heavy hitters in the Democratic Party, Members said they were also having some fun on the Eastern Shore. Andrews said it was a good sign for the year ahead.
“I think if you’ve seen people come over the last few days, our relaxed approach to this, I think, expresses confidence,” he said.