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
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
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.