Dems: We’ll run on our record

Dems: We’ll run on our record

Congressional Democrats on Thursday declared they would run on their legislative record this fall, rejecting former President Clinton’s advice to counter a new Republican policy agenda with one of their own.

The Democrats’ decision to run on what they have accomplished over the last two years is politically tricky. Polls show that many Americans are skeptical of the two signature items of the 111th Congress: the new healthcare law and President Obama’s stimulus package.

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House and Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday ridiculed the Republicans’ “Pledge to America,” a manifesto designed as a sequel to the “Contract With America” that helped the GOP win control of Congress in 1994. Democrats dubbed the document a “pledge to special interests” and said they have no plans to release their own governing white paper.

Democrats used a “New Direction for America” in 2006 when they recaptured the House and Senate, with slogan-friendly policy proposals such as “Six for ’06.” Some of the six policy items were signed into law in 2007 and 2008, while others were vetoed by President George W. Bush.

Last cycle, congressional Democrats adopted the “hope and change” message of then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Russian social media is the modern-day Trojan horse Trump records robo-call for Gillespie: He'll help 'make America great again' MORE (D-Ill.), significantly bolstering their majorities in both chambers.

But this year, Democrats don’t have one clear, bumper sticker-friendly message.

Clinton believes that is a mistake. During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Clinton said the party needs to promote a short list of goals to tout on the campaign trail.

“Remember the gift that [then-Rep.] Newt Gingrich [R-Ga.] gave us in the 1990s. Newt Gingrich proved with that Contract With America that you can nationalize the midterm elections,” Clinton said. Democrats “should do this as an opportunity, as an obligation, to say, ‘This is our national plan.’ It’s not too late to do this.”

But Democrats on Capitol Hill disagree.

“You’ve got a bunch of different situations in different states,” said Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.). “There’s been a lot of emphasis on delegating campaign themes to the candidates, as opposed to coming up with a national slogan. This is a year when we’ve passed so much stuff that people like [Sen.] Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetBipartisan lawmakers can rebuild trust by passing infusion therapy bill GAO to investigate Trump's voter fraud commission 2 election integrity commission members protest lack of transparency MORE [D-Colo.] or [Sen.] Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerFour more lawmakers say they’ve been sexually harassed by colleagues in Congress California Hispanics are the vanguard for a new political paradigm Trump riles Dems with pick for powerful EPA job MORE [D-Calif.] are better off deciding what they want their own slogan to be for their state and their situation. And don’t forget, the president’s popularity is so variable from state to state.”

“Slogans are important, but they matter more on individual campaigns than for organizations,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who is up for reelection in 2012. “You have to be for something, and slogans can help with that, but most campaigns are run at the local level, and often they’re running from national campaigns.”

Democrats have changed their campaign messages throughout 2010. Earlier this year, they criticized the GOP for being the “party of no,” then shifted their attacks to tie congressional Republicans to Bush and, more recently, focused on Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery One year later, neither party can get past last year's election White House strikes back at Bushes over legacy MORE (R-Ohio).

On Thursday, House Democratic leaders held a press conference titled “Make It in America,” wherein Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) highlighted a bill to boost small businesses.

“It’s pretty clear [Republicans] want to do a U-turn back to Bush policies,” said Van Hollen. “Our slogan is that the key to moving forward as a country is to not return to the policies that got us into this mess to begin with.”

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“ ‘Make It in America’ means that people are down and depressed right now, and we believe the program we’re pursuing is going to help them make it,” said Hoyer. “The second part is to make ‘it’ in America — manufacturing.”

Other leaders said they were satisfied to stand on their 20 months of accomplishments, asserting that Republicans have no new ideas.

“I don’t know that I could give you the Republican slogan, either,” Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems mull big changes after Brazile bombshell After Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Bipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program MORE (D-Ill.) told The Hill. “And I’m not sure how far slogans really take you. I found in my campaigns that they don’t mean much. It’s one line in a brochure, and maybe the end of a television ad. What drives it are the ideas, and we feel there’s a clear contrast here.

“This Republican platform they announced today? September is supposed to be a time for new TV shows. This is a rerun of all their ideas from the Bush years. They don’t have an original, new idea. That’s my slogan.”

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic Homeland Security members request additional DHS nominee testimony Senate panel delays vote on Trump’s Homeland Security pick Steve Israel: ‘We had a better time at the DMZ than we’re going to have tonight’ MORE (D-Mo.) said there is no mantra that could prevent the inevitable loss of Democratic seats, asserting that the party in the majority usually loses seats in midterm elections. But McCaskill noted her own election in 2006 benefited from that trend.

“People are frustrated, and they want to throw people in power out. We all understand that,” McCaskill said. “Some of us benefited from that sentiment. So it’s not the end of the world that people are upset and angry. We’ve got to stay focused on what we believe in, which is helping the middle class and reminding people that the reason things are such a mess is because [Republicans] were in charge for a while.”

During an interview with The Hill this summer, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, “We have a dilemma, because we could either run as how the Republicans have stopped [bills from passing] … or we could, in contradiction to that, argue how much we’ve accomplished, which undermines the first argument. The truth of the matter is that we’ve got both things that we have to talk about.” Michael O’Brien and Jordan Fabian contributed to this article.