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White House Outlines Aggressive Election Year Strategy

Senior White House officials huddled with Senate Democrats on Thursday afternoon to lay out details of an aggressive election-year message offensive and vowed to use President Barack Obama’s bully pulpit to back up Democratic candidates this summer and fall.

The hourlong presentation to the Democratic Conference was led by Phil Schiliro, assistant to the president for legislative affairs, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina. The group outlined the broad areas Democrats will focus on between now and the election; they also vowed that the White House would re-engage with the public on behalf of Democrats.

Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the meeting was designed to update Members on “what we’re doing over the next few months, what we’re doing on messaging,” and described the presentation as “a whole plan” going forward.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) agreed, explaining that White House aides provided Senators with “an analysis of where the voters are, what moves the voters … and where we need to be” in terms of the party’s broad messaging efforts.

Although the meeting touched on a handful of specific issues — including the looming financial reform fight and the health care debate — Democratic Senators said the session was wide-ranging and designed to educate them on how best to define “our side and the other side more clearly.”

Durbin said Democrats will focus on a message that “people are struggling [and] they’re not going to get a fighting chance if Republicans take over … if [the country] goes back to the Bush economic policies.”

Polling presented at the meeting showed the public views Democrats and Republicans similarly. Democrats hope that by aligning with consumers, workers and the middle class and painting Republicans as the party of Big Oil, big bankers and insurance companies, they can improve their polling numbers.

One of the biggest themes in the meeting — and one that was well-received by the rank and file — was the commitment spelled out by Schiliro and others that Obama would be much more aggressive in providing cover and support to Democrats in the run-up to the election.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he believes the White House has learned from their past mistakes on health care reform and is ready for the public relations battle over financial regulatory reform. “I think they’re going to get aggressive because I think they see, especially after the past few days on the floor, that some people are trying to, on the Republican side, trying to recast the message with misinformation.”

He added, “What I think we got was a good sense that the White House has figured this out finally and that we’ve been down here plowing the field and now they need to come into the field with us and I think that’s what we’re going to see now.”

Begich said a major part of the White House’s message to Senators on Thursday was to “not lose focus” on jobs legislation because it is the “No. 1 priority of the American population.”

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