With leading conservatives gathered just outside Washington this week, Democrats have a launched an all-out public-relations offensive aimed at convincing moderate voters that the GOP is now run by "fringe" elements on the far right.
The Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other party arms have both mocked CPAC and highlighted what they see as outside-the-mainstream views presented at the high-profile conservative gathering, which kicked off Thursday.
The effort, playing out in press releases and on social media this week, is central to the Democrats' political strategy heading into the midterm elections in November. It's also the tack Democrats are likely to take as the 2016 presidential contest draws nearer.
"It's to make clear what's being said [at CPAC]. You have some of the most fringe elements in the conservative movement with most of the people who are probably going to run for president in 2016" on the Republican side, said Michael Czin, press secretary for the DNC. "It used to be more of a fringe gathering, and now it's more in line with where the Republican base is now. You see a lot of misguided priorities, but it's what the right wing rallies around now."
One of the most biting attacks came in the form of a mock agenda released by Democratic Party organizations, just as leading Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and figures outside the political realm such as National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre took to the stage.
The document focused on fake agenda items purported to be topics at the meeting, including "Why Social Security Is Really a Ponzi Scheme," "The Downside of a Female President" and "Shoot on Sight: An Immigration Reform Strategy."
While the release was clearly tongue-in-cheek and a political jab at the other side, it's in line with the narrative Democrats, including President Obama, are trying to cement in the minds of voters as the crucial November elections near.
Democrats want to paint the GOP as a party unfriendly to women, immigrants, Americans who rely on entitlement programs such as Social Security, middle-class families struggling to make ends meet and other blocs of voters.
By contrast, Democrats want to present themselves as inclusive and, as the president has said repeatedly in recent months, the party of "opportunity" for all.
"Democrats are consistently on the side of the middle class, while Republicans are on the side of special interests and wildly outside the mainstream," said Josh Schwerin, press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
But Republicans have brushed off the Democratic tactics, which Mr. Czin said promised will continue until the conclusion of CPAC.
GOP leaders say the event is a demonstration of the underlying strength of the party, with numerous figures — both political veterans and newcomers to Washington such as Mr. Cruz — enjoying strong support from conservatives.
"The Democrats are flailing," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said. "While we have a long bench of Republican leaders, the Democrats are spending all of their time ducking Obamacare and a flailing president."
On stage at CPAC, top Republicans said the shift of their party toward a bolder conservative vision will be beneficial moving forward, even if it sometimes pits Republicans against each other.
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