BEDFORD, N.H. (AP) Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe yesterday said Democrats focused too narrowly during the election on issues such as a Medicare prescription-drug benefit and Social Security, rather than delivering a coherent economic message.
While he acknowledged that President Bush and the Republicans ran an effective campaign in 2002, he said Republicans did not win a mandate last month.
“The Republicans have already put forth an extreme right-wing agenda which is not what this country wants,” Mr. McAuliffe told business and community leaders at a breakfast forum in Bedford.
Mr. McAuliffe said he is confident Democrats will win back seats in Congress in 2004 and win the presidency.
Observers say Democrats suffered this year from the lack of a national spokesman to counter Mr. Bush. Mr. McAuliffe said it also was tough to get voters and news outlets to focus on economic issues because of concerns about national security after the September 11 attacks.
He promised that national Democratic leaders are working on a unified economic message and new initiatives on homeland security.
While Republicans have narrow majorities in the House and Senate, Democratic governors were elected in battleground states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and New Mexico.
Republican spokesman Kevin Sheridan said that “distorting and attacking President Bush’s agenda backfired on Democrats in 2002 in a major way.”
“You would think their party leaders would recognize a failed strategy,” Mr. Sheridan said, “and work on creating a positive one that seeks to move the country forward.”
Mr. McAuliffe said unseating Mr. Bush in 2004 will be “tough,” but is possible. To win, Democrats must “articulate an alternative vision to Bush on the issues Americans care about the most,” he said.
“The good news is we have six or seven talented Democratic leaders poised to do just that in a race for the White House,” he said.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean have already formed exploratory committees, and Mr. McAuliffe said he expects North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to enter the race.
Either Al Gore, the Democratic candidate in 2000, or his running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, will run, Mr. McAuliffe said. Other potential candidates are Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, he said.