Election-year messages

President Obama, with an exception here and there, has done an effective job getting his message out in recent weeks.

He was handed a big victory by the Republicans’ mishandling of the payroll tax debate late last year. He kept the momentum going by using his bully pulpit in early January to make the case for his tax policies and new initiatives, such as his plan to streamline the executive branch. In both cases — tax breaks and cutting government — he was also, of course, colonizing GOP territory.

His State of the Union speech did not attract huge ratings, but it was well-

received by political analysts. 

It has helped unify Democrats this election year, months after the party was bickering over parts of Obama’s jobs bill. 

In contrast, congressional Republicans were at odds in December over payroll taxes. Several rank-and-file House GOP lawmakers publicly ripped Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ky.). 

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerConservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ohio) and McConnell were out of sync, too. For the first time in this Congress, there was serious daylight between them.

This week, Obama and Senate Democrats touted popular legislation that would ban congressional insider trading. House Republicans leaders are still working on their version of the bill. Meanwhile, tension between the Republican rivals for the president has intensified. 

The bottom line is that Democrats won December and January.

The good news for Republicans? There are still nine months until the election.

The bad news? The GOP presidential primary contest is not close to being over.

Both parties in both chambers of Congress have conducted their annual congressional retreats. In odd-numbered years, the retreats focus on policy. During even-numbered years, they focus on politics. 

Democrats and Republicans are poised to ratchet up their election-year 

message in the weeks and months ahead. With a friend in the White House, Democrats have the natural advantage. 

If Republicans are going to rebound, they will need to resolve their differences and unify behind their presidential nominee. 

Last month, Republicans ceded the political microphone to Obama. While senior GOP leaders did appear on the Sunday shows, they failed to capture headlines.

Congress is in session roughly one out of every two calendar days, and lawmakers are in their districts and states the rest of the time. 

But news can be made from anywhere, not just from inside the halls of the Capitol.

For example, months before the 2010 election, BoehnerJohn BoehnerConservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE called for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s resignation during a speech in his home state. Even though it was delivered in the dog days of August, Boehner’s comments dominated the news cycle and forced the White House to respond.

 In 2012, the left and the right will jostle for the political microphone. The party that delivers the message more effectively will be making policy in 2013.