Pelosi Sets Long-Awaited Message Rollout

Posted September 10, 2004 at 5:52pm

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is summoning House Democrats to a Sept. 22 unveiling of the minority party’s long-awaited version of the GOP’s 1994 “Contract with America,” a document Democrats will use over the following weeks to try to convince voters to give them a majority in the chamber.

Pelosi has insisted all 205 Democratic Members attend next week’s rollout of their 2004 political and message blueprint, which has been in the works for the better part of the year and came together with the help of focus groups and top marketing executives from California to New York.

Inside the Caucus, Reps. George Miller (Calif.), co-chairman of the Steering and Policy Committee and Pelosi’s closest House ally, and Ed Markey (Mass.), presidential hopeful John Kerry’s (Mass.) top House liaison, spearheaded the crafting of the package.

According to knowledgeable sources, the House Democrats’ document will be dubbed a “partnership” with the American people. They noted it will be different from the Republicans’ “Contract with America” in that it will not lay out specific legislative and policy proposals, but instead broadly define Democratic themes and present explanations for why voters should bump the minority into the majority.

House Republicans, led by then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (Ga.), put out their “Contract with America” in 1994 as part of an election-year plan promising voters specific changes the party would make if given a House majority. The document helped lead to the Republican House takeover that year.

Pelosi held a private meeting Thursday evening with Democratic leaders and about 15 other key Members to discuss the upcoming release of the document. In the closed-door session, Pelosi cautioned those Members and aides to remain tight-lipped about the unveiling and demanded staff refrain from taking notes or using BlackBerries while details were being discussed.

Originally, the “partnership” document was to be unveiled before the July Democratic convention, but the timetable was pushed back. Some Members argued the delay was intentional because voters wouldn’t focus on the November elections until after Labor Day, while others said there were difficulties putting it together and feared it would come out too late to be effective.

One House Democrat said it makes the most sense to release it now because “voters are just now paying attention.”

But a Democratic insider suggested that at this stage in the game, and with all eyes on the presidential race, “the practical application of it is arguably zero.”

And Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, argued Pelosi is yet again attempting to paint the House battlefield with too broad a brush, saying contests are won with candidates tailoring campaigns and messages specific to their districts.

“House Democratic efforts to nationalize this election will be as successful as John Kerry’s campaign — going nowhere quickly,” Forti said.

But House Democratic sources who helped assemble the theme-based document said the “partnership” plan will serve to market long-standing Democratic ideas to which voters are sympathetic.

“We realize our message resonates with the public; the point of this exercise is to get that message across to the American public more effectively,” said a staffer familiar with the document. “We just haven’t done a good job spreading [our message] and getting it to these people. In that sense, this new package will help us translate what we know is an effective message into votes.”

The “partnership,” sources said, will be shorter and more concise — likely in the form of a palm card — than the Republican “Contract.” It will lead with the themes of security or jobs, followed by other top Democratic issues of health care, education and veterans’ benefits.

“The [Minority] Leader has been clear that Democrats will not go into the election without the American people knowing who we are, what we stand for and what we’re willing to fight for,” said a well-placed Democratic aide.

Sources explained that the document will be broad enough that Democrats from across the ideological spectrum can apply it to their campaigns.

One senior Democratic staffer described it as a “message document” that will lay out the “Democratic agenda, where Democrats are and where Democrats want to go.” It will also include some “beating down” of Republicans.

Another knowledgeable aide said: “The document will serve as a message template for House Democrats as we move toward the election in November. All House Democrats, regardless of geography, will be able to take this message home.”