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House Dems to Explain Vison Better     01/30 06:26

   PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- President Barack Obama is trying to cheer up House 
Democrats, urging them to keep battling for middle-class families even as they 
trumpet brighter news about jobs, energy production and other economic 

   In that spirit, the lawmakers who saw their numbers shrink in November's 
elections vowed to get better at explaining their vision to voters. They need 
better messaging, not changes in policy, to win elections again, the Democrats 
said Thursday as they huddled in Philadelphia to talk strategy.

   It might be wishful thinking, of course. Even Obama jokingly warned how hard 
it will be to overcome the Republicans' 58-seat House majority in next year's 

   He said youthful, dark-haired Rep. Ben Lujan of New Mexico --- newly named 
to head their 2016 House campaigns --- will end up with "hair like Steve 
Israel." Israel, a New York congressman who preceded Lujan, is fully gray.

   Israel's new role is to oversee messaging for House Democrats. He told 
reporters his colleagues will stick to the party's well-known priorities: a 
higher minimum wage, tax increases on the rich, and advancing the president's 
health care law and other measures largely associated with Obama.

   This time, they're counting on Obama's rising popularity --- and fading 
headlines on Ebola and terrorist beheadings --- to help persuade voters they'd 
be better off with a Democratic-run Congress.

   In his evening speech, the president vowed to pitch in.

   "I'm not giving up the last two years, standing on the sideline," Obama 
said, to a standing ovation. "There is no economic measure by which we are not 
better off," he said, adding that Democrats must tell that story.

   Earlier, Israel said House Democrats are "absolutely unified on three 
essential messages going forward. And it's middle class, middle class and 
middle class."

   Israel acknowledged that Democrats talked a lot about the middle class in 
last fall's elections. But world calamities distracted voters, he said, and 
Democrats failed to show that their economic policies would directly benefit 
working-class families.

   Riffing on a campaign line from presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, 
Israel said the Democrats' new theme will be, "It's MY economy, stupid."

   Republicans scoff at Democrats' talk of better messaging. "Updating the 
packaging doesn't help if the product is still lousy," said Michael Steel, 
spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

   Republicans say huge numbers of Americans dislike the president's signature 
health care overhaul. Israel, by contrast, says only the "tea party base" 
strongly opposes it.

   In a sense, both are right, which is why skillful framing and messaging are 
crucial to campaigns. Polls show that many Americans like key details of the 
health law, such as guaranteed insurance for people with pre-existing medical 
problems. The law's overall image is less popular, however, especially when 
it's portrayed as a big-government mandate.

   Seeking new ideas, dozens of House Democrats filled out a "messaging survey" 
on key points to stress. Israel displayed the resulting word cloud. The phrases 
cited most often were "middle class," ''paycheck growth" and "jobs."

   Democrats groused about Obama's poor approval ratings last November, and 
most in tight elections kept him away. Now that jobs, the stock market and the 
president's popularity are rising, however, they're more content to acknowledge 
their ties to him.

   "He's our messenger in chief," Israel said.

   Some friction is inevitable, however, especially on trade. Obama wants 
authority to negotiate trade deals with minimal congressional interference, 
while many House Democrats oppose new trade pacts.

   A Democratic official said Obama told the lawmakers he'll give them more 
information about the specifics in the trade deals he's negotiating overseas. 
The official, who wasn't authorized to discuss a private meeting and requested 
anonymity, said Obama told Democrats that previous trade deals haven't been 
perfect but these new ones will improve the status quo.

   The president also told lawmakers the U.S. can't afford to let China set 
rules for global trade, the official said.


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