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Democrats Look to Past to Chart Future

Tom Williams/Roll Call
House Democratic leaders speak Thursday at their annual retreat in Cambridge, Md.

Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) over the weekend described the Republicans’ proposals to cut spending as a “recipe for budget anarchy and fiscal chaos.”

Democrats have also outlined the three pillars of their economic message: creating jobs, reducing the deficit and strengthening the middle class. They plan to focus heavily in the short term on their “Make It in America” manufacturing jobs initiative, aides said.

Roy Spence, a marketing guru whom Pelosi has relied on in the past, spoke to Democrats at this weekend’s retreat about effective communications tactics.

Larson said Democrats are trying to find ways to untangle complex policy jargon so that the public understands their ideas.

“It’s clarity, bringing clarity, and oftentimes, simple, affirmative statements are better,” the Caucus chairman said. “We know how much we were able to accomplish in the 111th Congress, but if you don’t convey a message, then nobody knows about it. Needless to say, we’ve been stung by the other side boiling things down and saying things like ‘Death Tax,’ ‘Kill the Bill.’”

“We’re talking all the time about what we need to do,” Clyburn said.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver predicted that Republicans would help Democrats make their case, particularly if they go too far, too fast.

“We can get there with considerable help from Republicans, and we welcome all help from Republicans,” the Missouri Democrat said. “They can help us by overreaching.”

The challenges for House Democrats this cycle are high. Two years isn’t a long time, and the political map is difficult: Many of the districts where they lost seats lean Republican, and reclaiming them will be tough.

Still, Democrats this weekend weren’t discouraged.

“We think we have an excellent opportunity in terms of recruitment,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), adding that there are now 61 Republican-held seats in districts that Obama won in 2008. “Those seats give us a good base to start with. You can absolutely count to 25 and beyond.”

Pelosi said Democrats have “great prospects” to retake control, adding that “a great deal” of the party’s efforts to win back the chamber would hinge on its messaging strategy.

“You can’t recruit volunteers and you can’t raise the resources without a message and inspiration,” she said. “So it will all be about that. ... It’s going to be message. It’s going to be mobilization at the grass-roots level.”

Putting that strategy in place could be problematic for Pelosi, however.

Her hold on her Caucus remains shaky: Nearly two-dozen Members publicly called for her to surrender her leadership post after the Nov. 2 elections, and 19 voted for another Democrat during the floor vote for Speaker earlier this month.

A senior aide to one of the Democrats who opposed Pelosi for Speaker said Caucus moderates would feel much better about the future if Pelosi publicly said that she would not seek the Speaker’s gavel again. She hasn’t signaled any intention to walk away.

“Achieving that goal might require a signal, early on, from the current leadership that our next Speaker would be someone other than Nancy Pelosi,” the aide said. “Based on the recent vote for Speaker, she is 45 votes shy of the Speakership.”

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