- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

NEW YORK There was enough political squabbling at the Democratic Leadership Council's annual conference here last week to qualify for a rerun on "Family Feud."
Angry DLC leaders ganged up on Al Gore, charging that his leftist, class-warfare, anticorporate message in the 2000 election turned off millions of middle-of-the-road, investor-class voters. It was bad enough the founder of the centrist-leaning DLC, Al From, and its national chairman, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, both attacked the former Democratic presidential nominee. But, Mr. Gore's former running mate, Connecticut's Sen. Joe Lieberman, also stuck the knife into the man who put him on the ticket.
Mr. Lieberman, who has ambitions to be his party's next presidential nominee, told reporters before the DLC meeting got under way that Mr. Gore's message "made it more difficult for us to gain the support of middle-class, independent voters who don't see America as us vs. them."
Shedding the centrist-sounding rhetoric that Mr. Clinton used in 1992 to reach out to swing voters, Mr. Gore ran on a divisive populist theme of "the people vs. the powerful." Mr. Lieberman, also a former DLC chairman, abhorred that message, but played the good soldier and stuck it out.
The strategy made Mr. From sick, too. It was the complete opposite of the New Democrat, pro-growth, pro-business message he had crafted and Mr. Clinton had won on.
But last week, as a parade of Democratic presidential hopefuls displayed their wares at the two-day conference, all of the stored-up anger toward Mr. Gore spilled out. "I think the strategy was wrong, and it was not likely to be successful," Mr. Lieberman said.
Other DLC Democrats joined in the assault. "I wish Al had refined the message and not used the "poor people vs. the rich. It cost us votes. It hurt us," former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell told me.
"The people in the political middle, the moderates, are turned off by that kind of talk," said David Armstrong, the Democratic mayor of Louisville, Ky.
Mr. Gore was asked to address the conference, but said he had a scheduling conflict. Then word leaked out that he was a few blocks away meeting with his book publisher on the last day of the conference, snubbing his DLC enemies.
However, just about every other presidential hopeful came and many sounded just as populist as Mr. Gore, lustily demagoguing the corporate accounting scandals and blaming Mr. Bush for the stock market collapse that followed.
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle recited the hyperbolic headlines on the latest weekly newsmagazines with titles like "Will I be able to retire?" as if the media hype conveyed anything more than the magazine industry's attempt to sell magazines through fear.
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a former trial lawyer who made millions of dollars by suing corporations, was just as hyperbolic, complaining we have an anti-working-class corporate culture in this country rife with corruption.
Mr. Edwards and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry called for repealing the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans, raising the specter of Walter Mondale calling for raising taxes on a weakened economy.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton tried to argue there was no such thing as "a binge" in the 1990s when her husband presided over the country. But if triple-digit stock prices for worthless tech and dot-com companies that had no profits, no assets and little revenue was not a buying binge, what was it?
The most intriguing part of the two-day event was the unvarnished political analysis of the electorate delivered by former Clinton pollster Mark Penn and Mr. From.
The electorate was changing dramatically in ways that Democrats had not recognized, they said. There were more affluent, better-educated, two-career couples who owned stock who were now the swing voters that Democrats had to target.
"We've got to expand our base. We can't win with the Democrats we have now," Mr. From warned the DLC. "We have to close the culture gap. We can't lose everybody who owns a gun.
"We have to come down hard on corporate abuses, but we still have to be about growing the economy," he said.
Mr. Penn explored the makeup of a key part of the electorate that Mr. Gore did not win in 2000. He won the soccer moms, but he "lost the Office Park Dads."
Who are they? They broke for Mr. Bush late in the 2000 election and they now prefer the Republicans. They are between the ages of 25 to 50, nonunion, make up 15 percent of the electorate, tend to live in the suburbs and are mostly independents. They are ideologically moderate, very concerned about fiscal/pocketbook issues and 72 percent of them own stock.
Mr. Bush and the Republicans have been tending to their base while reaching out very aggressively to swing voters like Hispanics, Catholics and blacks by changing the way Republicans are viewed. For example, 59 percent of voters do not think Republicans "want to starve the government," Mr. Penn said. But in an ominous sign for the November elections and beyond, 51 percent say the Democrats want to raise their taxes.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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