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Pelosi: Unity, Message Will Deliver Majority

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wouldn’t grade her first-year performance as head of the House Democrats but insisted Wednesday she is “on schedule” to return the chamber to her party’s hands.

Pelosi, speaking with a small group of Capitol Hill reporters, said she defines her success in 2003 by her ability to unify Members on key votes, tap the broad array of lawmakers’ talents and set an agenda that shows a clear distinction between Democrats and Republicans.

“In terms of building unity, building a message machine, building confidence in the Caucus that we will win next time, I think that I’m on schedule,” said Pelosi, elected one year ago to succeed Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) as Minority Leader.

“Maybe I go to one of those schools where you don’t really give a grade, but you make a measure of the level of success.”

Pelosi said her goal when she became leader was to “have a positive message and show a stark contrast between Democrats and Republicans.” Democrats have wrapped much of this year’s strategy around the lagging economy, but Pelosi indicated that the party will also turn the spotlight on another issue heading into 2004: homeland security.

Pelosi said she will convene a brainstorming session with Members on the Hill — tentatively scheduled for Dec. 9 — to discuss security, with the goal of coming up with a policy strategy on the topic. The forum will be similar to the Democrats’ session last year on the economy, which produced their version of a stimulus plan.

“We have been there for our men and women in uniform over and over again,” she said of the Democrats’ position on homeland security. “Clearly we haven’t been strong enough in conveying that to the American people.”

Beyond bringing the Caucus together on homeland security, Pelosi cited several examples in which she has been able bring together divergent views in her Caucus. From the economy and veterans’ benefits to prescription drugs and education, Pelosi said she has unified her Members and shown that Democrats have a different plan than the GOP.

Policy aside, Pelosi said House Democrats are also on schedule politically, traveling the country to convey the party message that they are “ready to win and prepared to govern.”

Compared to six months ago, Pelosi appeared more confident Wednesday about the party’s chances for taking back the House in 2004, shying away from her earlier outline for a two- to four-year plan for victory. This time Pelosi laid out a clear path for success: Democratic leaders are targeting 36 House districts, hoping to win 24 and saying they must carry 12 to regain the majority.

As part of that effort, the leader said she is on the road whenever possible to raise money for House Democrats, listing her home state of California, Massachusetts and New York as a few of the many places where she has seen success.

Pelosi said she focuses her message around unity in the party and its vision for the future, which revolves around health care, education, the environment, the economy and “the recklessness” of Bush administration policy.

“What I tell them is it is urgent — and I wish it was not so urgent — that the Democrats win,” she said. “That there is a difference in priorities in Washington that is stark, that it is necessary that we win.”

The Minority Leader reiterated her pledge that House Democrats would not enter the next election without a defined message, which she said the party failed to convey in 2002. When she travels the country, Pelosi pounds Democratic themes hard to ensure 2004 is different.

“I’m only limited by time,” she said. “Our opportunities are only limited by time, but it’s all been very successful.”

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