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At Retreat, Democrats Urged to Defend Past Record

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — House Democrats are spending their retreat time on Maryland’s Eastern Shore boosting morale and finding new ways to pound Congressional Republicans ahead of the 2012 elections, with one key adviser urging them not to run from their records but to “stand and defend” their accomplishments.

Members say this year’s issues retreat is a far peppier affair than last year, when Democrats were licking their wounds after a bruising 2010 midterm election. Now, they say they are using the three-day retreat to rally behind a basic set of messaging points under the theme “Reigniting the American Dream.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen Democrats this united,” Rep. Barbara Lee told reporters during a lunch break at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay resort.

The Californian said, “We’re united around one thing, and that’s making sure that we continue to fight for jobs and turn the economy around.”

That message is being underscored by presentations on “The Struggle for Rights” by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.) and “Our commitment to protect seniors” by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and Doris Matsui (Calif.), among other Member-led discussions.

Members rolled into the Eastern Shore on Wednesday afternoon for the three-day affair and listened to afternoon political sessions led by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.). After an evening of revelry and song in the hotel lounge, Members started early today with a media training session led by SKDKnickerbocker Managing Director Anita Dunn and Media Talent 2.0, Inc. President Joel Silberman.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who participated in a separate panel on messaging today, said he encouraged Members to “stand and defend what you’ve done, because you can’t run away from them.”

“We learned that in 2010. All the Blue Dog Democrats who voted for the health care bill and tried to act like it never happened learned you can’t run away from it,” Rendell told reporters at the Eagle’s Nest Bar & Grille, an on-site restaurant substituting as a media center for the three-day work period.

Acknowledging that the Democratic minority has little legislative leverage in the House, Rendell nevertheless said Members should “pivot off the things the president said in his State of the Union” and try to pressure Republicans into action, particularly on matters relating to housing and jobs.

Indeed, Democratic leaders speaking at a separate press conference praised President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address and said his speech, delivered before a joint session Tuesday, served as something of a pep rally going into the retreat.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said the speech was “so very consistent with all of the messages that we have been working on.”

Obama is scheduled to deliver closed-door remarks to the Caucus Friday before Members return to their districts for the weekend. Vice President Joseph Biden is also slated to appear before the Caucus on Friday.

“We’ll have an interaction with him that I know will be very productive for the American people,” Pelosi told reporters.

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