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New Dems Try to Refine Message

The recently reorganized House New Democrat Coalition took its first major step toward trying to repackage itself Tuesday, holding a private retreat designed to nail down its message and agenda.

Sources familiar with the retreat said the New Democrats failed to settle on a single, detailed course of action, but focused instead on how their values and issues — including national security, economic growth and personal responsibility — translate to voters in individual districts.

The NDC will hold a companion session in the coming weeks to work more specifically on its communications effort.

The NDC, which includes 42 Members, revamped itself in February in an attempt to rebuild its influence within the Democratic Party. The centrist group has weakened in recent years under Republican majorities and the exit from the White House of political ally Bill Clinton.

As part of the restructuring, the New Democrats elected a new band of leaders, cut its size through new membership requirements and set a new mission: to carve out a list of selected issues on which to focus.

The retreat was the first formal organizational effort, but the NDC has also been meeting with outside experts — including Clinton’s national economic adviser, Gene Sperling, and his chief of staff, John Podesta — to carve out a niche.

NDC Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher (Calif.) said Wednesday that the retreat “was one of many first steps that we’ve taken” in restructuring the New Democrats. Tauscher added that as the NDC moves forward, it is “coming back to our values” and “roots of national security, economic growth and opportunity and reform.”

“We have a very congruent and cohesive group of Members who are committed to this endeavor because we are Democrats,” she said. “We are deeply interested in delivering to our audience [the message of] why we are different from Republicans and what our proposals and initiatives are.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who chairs the New Democrats’ political action committee, said the group has “made significant progress” toward developing its list of signature issues.

“Security, growth and values are the areas where we believe the party needs to focus on to be successful,” Smith said. “We are pushing forward on developing policies on those issues.”

Tauscher said that even though the Democratic Party as a whole faces serious political obstacles, the New Democrats believe they can put forth an agenda to help move the party forward.

“We are getting back to our roots of national security, economic growth and opportunity and reform,” she said. “We believe this government is without checks or balances. This administration is run by one party, and the House is run by one party.”

Smith acknowledged that the New Democrats are still “a couple steps away from getting more specifics” but in the coming weeks and months will hold more meetings to come up with a specific agenda that clearly articulates its core policies.

“It’s a slow and patient process,” Smith said.

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