- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Congressional Democrats have yet to give voters a "clear direction" of the lawmakers' priorities in this election year, a trio of top strategists said in their latest report.
"Democrats are not gaining," wrote James Carville, Stanley Greenberg and Robert Shrum. "Democrats have not made gains on the economy or as the party willing to take on the powerful special interests."
The influential advisers suggest that timid, unfocused leadership is to blame for Democrats so far failing to gain more of an effect with voters on issues such as Social Security.
"The case does not make itself," they said. "Democrats have to make it. Democrats cannot run or win from a crouch. The opportunity … is to stand up, speak out, define the Democratic purpose in large terms. …"
Kori Bernards, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said the report actually shows that Democrats now have an opportunity.
"Now more than ever, Democrats have a chance to talk about the domestic agenda," Miss Bernards said. "There was a time period after September 11 in which we had to be careful about taking on the president. That time has turned the corner."
The report highlights what some Democrats have been acknowledging for months that their party is finding it very difficult to campaign against a popular wartime president. The Democracy Corps strategists' survey said President Bush's popularity has fallen from 82 percent in December to 75 percent now.
"George Bush is still popular but less so, which should be giving Democrats confidence that they can be heard," the report states.
But other polls by major news organizations still show Mr. Bush's job approval rating at 80 percent or higher. Republican pollster Dave Winston said the Democratic strategists are grasping at straws in looking for Mr. Bush's vulnerability.
"Anything above 70 percent [job approval] is just extraordinary," Mr. Winston said.
The report also makes clear the importance that Democrats are placing on the senior citizens' vote this year. Their latest survey says 70 percent of respondents expressed serious concern that the Bush administration is ignoring Social Security in favor of tax cuts.
Mr. Greenberg's wife, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, will hold a news conference at the Capitol today with other top House Democrats to put pressure on Republican leaders to detail their Social Security privatization plans. Mr. Gephardt, too, will turn up the heat on the budget and Social Security with a speech on the House floor.
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said Democrats won't get any traction from Social Security this year.
"Without constructive solutions to help America solve its problems, Democrats are being urged to resort to the tired old tactics of scaring seniors," said spokesman Ron Bonjean. "In fact, we all know the Democrats' real strategy is to recklessly increase federal spending and raise taxes on hardworking Americans."
The Democratic strategists urge their party leaders to blame the Bush administration and congressional Republicans for spending the Social Security surplus.
"We accuse the Republicans of squandering the opportunity to solve our most pressing national problems to secure Social Security and provide health care coverage during retirement," they wrote. Democrats "should hold Republicans accountable for squandering our assets and letting down the country."
Mr. Winston said Mr. Carville "is going back to the same old, tired class warfare."
"I would hope the Democrats follow this plan," Mr. Winston said. "This is a plan that will help Republicans retain their majority" in the House.


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