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Democratic Retreat Appears Heavy on Message, Not Policy

Updated: 11:18 a.m.

The House Democratic retreat that kicks off on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on Thursday will be light on policy talks, focusing almost entirely on messaging and the 2012 elections.

Members will open the retreat at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay on Thursday afternoon with a panel discussion on jobs and the economy headlined by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, economist Mark Zandi and Center for American Progress fellow Heather Boushey, according to an agenda obtained by Roll Call. A “middle class message” panel later in the evening will feature Anne Kim of Third Way and Stefan Hankin of Lincoln Park Strategies.

The speaker-heavy agenda has a similar theme through Saturday. Democratic pollster Mark Mellman will join Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) for a discussion on the jobs agenda dubbed “Make it in America.” Anita Dunn, partner at communications firm Squier Knapp Dunn and a former Obama administration aide, will make a presentation on “Messaging in the Minority” during a Friday panel discussion.

Roy Spence, co-founder of GSD&M Idea City who wrote “It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For,” will talk to Members during a Friday afternoon session that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is slated to moderate. A marketing and communications guru that Pelosi has relied on in the past, Spence is being included in response to a sense that Democrats did a poor job selling their product — particularly health care — before the November midterms, a Democratic aide said. The aide said Spence "fits right in with that theme" of making Democrats more effective at the "content and delivery" of their message.

The day will also include a host of panel discussions about the 2012 campaigns, with speakers offering insight on the use of new media, constituent outreach and the influence of outside groups that dominated the 2010 election cycle. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) will discuss the 2012 elections, and Members will hear from former Rep. Glenn Nye (Va.), who lost in 2010, on the lessons learned from the bruising election cycle that put Democrats back into the minority in the House. A handful of former Members were originally expected to participate in the discussion, but Nye is the only one who appears on the agenda.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden will deliver separate remarks Friday, with Obama speaking during Friday night’s dinner and Biden offering a foreign policy talk Friday afternoon. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is scheduled to give welcome remarks to Members on Thursday.

Members and their spouses will also receive a presentation focusing on security Friday morning. The topic has renewed focus in light of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) severely injured with a gunshot wound to the head. Members have already received a handful of briefings on security, with a specific focus on heightened security in district offices. Presenters in Friday’s talk include House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse and Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel.

Saturday, the lightest day of the retreat, features just one panel discussion on the budget. Speakers include Stan Collender, a partner at Qorvis Communications, and Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.

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