Democrats’ summer strategy

July 1, 2010

House Democrats plan a six-week messaging campaign for the August recess in which they’ll warn voters that putting Republicans back in power would mark a return to failed George W. Bush administration policies.

The strategy, coordinated with the White House and the Democrats’ campaign committees, is designed to put Republicans on defense by forcing them to explain where — and how — they would lead the country should they win control of Congress.

“The pressure is going to be on Republicans to explain what they would do if they were given back the keys to the car,” said a leadership aide familiar with the plans. “That’s something that didn’t happen last August.”

Democrats will highlight a specific theme each week of the recess. The first will be the party’s “Make it in America” manufacturing initiative, followed by Social Security, consumer protection, small businesses, troops and veterans, and jobs and the economy. The party is trying to brand its agenda as one centered around “fighting for the middle class.”

“The idea here is to stay on the offense,” the aide said. “And I think that the reality is that we will be less than three months away from the election, and Republicans have still not laid out an agenda.”

House Democrats received a briefing on the effort on Monday evening at their caucus meeting, according to the aide, as part of their effort to build momentum before the fall elections.

Democrats certainly want to avoid a repeat of last year’s often-raucous August town hall meetings, at which some lawmakers were shouted down by angry constituents and protesters as they discussed the party’s proposed healthcare reform legislation.

The coordination this year is something that didn’t happen going into last August’s recess, according to the aide.

Two items conspicuously absent from the messaging agenda are comprehensive immigration reform and a broad energy and climate change bill. Those priorities stalled and appear likely to be shelved ahead of the fall’s elections.

The campaign will underscore a familiar argument being made by Democrats in recent months: that Republican victories would result in a return to the “failed policies of the past,” as President Obama often puts it, and repeals of beneficial reforms Democrats passed during the last year and a half.

Republicans, for their part, are expected to sketch their own recess plans in the coming days, in which they will make the case for winning back the House and Senate. Some GOP leaders have said they might detail a policy platform after meeting with constituents during the recess.

A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) dismissed the Democrats’ planned messaging strategy.

“Even if House Democrats choose to confront their constituents this August, they aren’t likely to find a receptive audience to this desperate ‘strategy’ to distract voters from their job-killing economic policies,” said Paul Lindsay, NRCC spokesman. “Republican candidates will continue listening to the concerns of American taxpayers and talking about their solutions to getting our economy moving again.”

Democratic officials are looking to liberal groups to bolster their efforts during the district work period. While the leadership aide would not specify which groups, the party is counting on allies to underscore its messaging on certain issues.

For instance, during the week-long focus on Social Security, which coincides with the entitlement program’s 75th anniversary, groups that focus on that issue might be expected to press Republicans on their plans for the program.

Lawmakers will have to tailor their approach to individual districts — particularly important for freshman and sophomore members, many of whom face stiff challenges. Many of those members have “set the pace” for the offensive in August, said the aide.

One member is planning 22 town halls for the work period, while Washington-based press conferences and district events, like newspaper interviews and talk radio appearances, will be used to try to drive the Democratic message home.

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