House Democrats seem content to let Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) take the lead in developing a national message for the party — although they insist that efforts are ongoing to develop a platform of their own in the coming months.
“We are working on it right now,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) at a Monday briefing at the Ritz-Carlton. “The American public wants change.”
Kerry has said repeatedly that he wants the week leading up to his nomination to focus on the Democrats’ positive vision for America. He is expected to more fully flesh out that vision in his acceptance speech Thursday night.
Matsui provided a rough blueprint of what House Democrats’ message will look like, noting that prescription drugs, national security and “corruption in Republican ranks” will be the centerpiece of the national effort.
Perhaps the most intriguing of those potential themes is that of a Republican House grown bloated and ineffective after a decade in the majority.
“Republicans have forgotten about the experience” of being in the minority, said Matsui. “There is a lack of discipline.”
While he acknowledged that most voters pay little attention to the internal machinations of the House, Matsui argued that a series of incidents over the past several years combine to make a compelling case that it is time for a change.
Matsui argued that the 1994 GOP tidal wave was “an accumulation of what happened in 1992, 1993 and 1994.”
He dismissed concerns that his party had yet to unveil an agenda designed to retake the House majority that was lost in the 1994 landslide election.
“It would not be in anyone’s interest to present a theme in June, July or even August,” Matsui said.
Typically, the summer is an extremely slow time in electoral politics. In 1994, the Republicans’ now legendary Contract with America was not unveiled until September. This year may be different, however, as a debate is ongoing about whether Congress should come back into session to consider the recommendations made last week by the commission charged with investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Matsui used the release of the report last week to accuse Bush of a lack of “leadership” on the issue.
“He hasn’t done anything,” Matsui added.
While much of the information voters will be getting about what Democrats believe will come from Kerry and his ticket mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), Members of Congress have been working over the past months to craft a message of their own.
That effort — led by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) — consists of roughly 15 Members.
“You’ll see a lot of similarities” between Kerry’s message and that of House Democrats, said DCCC Communications Director Kori Bernards.
But candidates in the 30 to 35 House races that are expected to be targeted by the national party “will find a way to get beyond the presidential race,” Matsui added.
Even as Matsui was trumpeting the formation of a national message, he acknowledged that many of the seats that Democrats must win to take back the House, including those of five endangered incumbents in Texas, sit in areas that President Bush will carry easily.
In these races, Matsui said that the Democratic turnout operation, which helped win special elections in Kentucky’s 6th district and South Dakota’s at-large seat earlier in the year, would be crucial.
“In these non-battleground states, we will have our own field operation,” Matsui said.
Democrats believe that their messaging efforts will be significantly bolstered by a receptive public that has grown disillusioned with the Republican control of all three levels of the federal government.
Repeated polls testing voters’ preference in the generic Congressional ballot have shown Democrats with a high single-digit edge, and Matsui said Tuesday that if his party goes into the election with a 3-point lead in those polls, Democrats will win the House majority.
“Democrats can win the House back if this breeze, this movement for a change, continues,” Matsui predicted.