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Democrats Start Retreat With Positive Look at 2012

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — House Democratic leaders said they were bullish on their prospects for retaking the House in 2012 as they opened their retreat here Thursday evening.

Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) predicted that having President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket would be “enormously” helpful to Democrats next year, and Assistant Leader James Clyburn said the landscape would be more favorable for Democrats than it was in November. The South Carolina Democrat said that he has reviewed polling and other electoral data district by district and that he sees “a tremendous pathway” for success in 2012.

House Democrats have also been encouraged by a recent bump in Obama’s poll numbers, Clyburn said. The boost came after the president gave a speech honoring the victims of a shooting Jan. 8 in Arizona that killed six people. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was among the 13 wounded.

Of the House’s 193 Democrats, more than 138 were registered to attend the three-day retreat, which will include a closed-door session Friday night with Obama. Democrats view the event as an opportunity to regroup and move past the drubbing they took in the midterm elections in November. They also hope to refine a messaging strategy that they acknowledge fell short in the 2010 cycle.

Now that Republicans control the majority in the House, Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra said Democrats intend to emphasize that the onus is on them to govern.

“Now that we get to compare and contrast with what Republicans do — not what they say they want to do, not what they say they would have done, but what they do … I think our story stands up very well for 2012,” the California Democrat said.

He added that it was “too bad” that Democrats were not better at promoting the work of the 111th Congress to voters. Part of the problem, he said, was that Democrats were distracted from their messaging efforts by the more important business of governing. The leaders said their strategy going forward will be built around jobs and the economy.

“What we didn’t do was take the time to do tap dances about what we had just done,” Becerra said. “But we did the work of the people. … Now shame on us, in this new world, where politics prevails over policy, that you have to try to sell everything that you do. But I think the Republicans, at the same time, are now finding, now that they have to be responsible, it’s a little more difficult than they thought.”

Becerra said he and his colleagues would have “a lot more time to do messaging” now that they are in the minority.

As part of their effort to learn from their mistakes, the Democrats scheduled a retreat session for Thursday evening with narrowly re-elected Reps. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and former Rep Glenn Nye (D-Va.). The trio would be “talking about their experiences out there so that those Members who are here can begin to build for the future,” Clyburn said.

Larson, Becerra and Clyburn spoke to reporters following welcoming remarks from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, as well as a plenary session on jobs and the economy. Members heard from pollster Stan Greenberg, economist Mark Zandi and Heather Boushey, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

O’Malley, who was sworn in for a second term this week, thanked the Caucus for its efforts on the economic stimulus and health care overhaul, and urged Democrats “to keep up the good work,” according to a Democratic aide who was paraphrasing the governor’s remarks.

Larson said House Democrats were “excited and enthusiastic” about moving forward with a focus on jobs. “Our sleeves are rolled up, ready to work,” he added.

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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