- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

Senate Democrats brought in former President Bill Clinton yesterday to discuss election-year strategy and give them advice on how to be effective in their campaign to recapture power on Capitol Hill.

“We talked about what the Senate Democrats could do to be more focused in their communication strategy, and what was likely to happen in the coming year,” Mr. Clinton told reporters as he left the meeting with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who had invited him. “I gave them a few little ideas.”

Mr. Clinton did not publicly endorse a particular Democratic presidential candidate, saying “we have a good field” of candidates. But the former president did say that the current front-runner in the race for the nomination, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, is not too liberal to win a general election.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say he can’t be elected or that he’s too far to the left,” Mr. Clinton said in response to a question.

Mr. Clinton said Mr. Kerry is “good on security, good on fiscal responsibility and welfare reform,” and was “there to help” when he was president and was, “trying to reverse 12 years of what we’ve had for the last four, where we were taxing less and spending more — its fun in the short run but its a recipe for disaster.”

Mr. Clinton’s talk was part of a daylong meeting Senate Democrats held to discuss policy and issues for the coming year. House and Senate Republicans are holding a similar retreat in Philadelphia this weekend.

Earlier this week Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said he asked Mr. Clinton to “give us his observations about how we might work more closely together” with House Democrats and ultimately the party’s presidential nominee, to advance their agenda and message this year on issues like the economy, health care and education.

Mr. Daschle said he chose Mr. Clinton, “because he successfully led our country on many of these issues,” and “is somebody whose judgment on these issues we respect.”

Some critics, however, said Mr. Clinton may not be the best choice.

“Given the fact that Republicans gained control of Congress during his presidency, he’s probably not the right person to provide a road map to lead them back into the majority,” said one Republican strategist, adding that of Democratic candidates Mr. Clinton personally campaigned for in 2002, eight won and 11 lost.

But Democrats offered positive reviews after the meeting. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said Democrats are “absolutely” more unified than they’ve been in past election years.

“You should have seen the passion in there,” he said of the closed-door session, explaining that Democrats are “tired of not getting answers for protection of our country.”

Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, told CNN yesterday that Mr. Clinton urged Democrats to “try to put a human face on the deficit” by showing New York City officers who helped during the September 11 terrorist attacks and are now being laid off. Mr. Clinton said that “if we’re gonna win it’s going to be on the economy,” Mr. Bayh told CNN.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, said Democrats will be, “speaking very clearly about what our values and priorities are compared to the president’s.” She said the top issues would be jobs, health care, education, and security.

As an example of the Democrats’ communication strategy, she cited the new overtime pay rules the administration is advancing, which Democrats say would eliminate such pay for millions of workers, including firefighters and police officers. “When the president is fighting to cut overtime pay for the very people we’re asking to protect us … I think that’s the wrong choice,” she said. Mrs. Stabenow also said the “security” issue is about, “more than military … it’s economic security. It’s knowing that if a child is sick you have a doctor you can take him to.”

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