- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 12, 2005

Democratic strategists have been saying for months that their party has to change its message and come up with new ideas to expand its base, but congressional leaders yesterday seemed to be sticking to the same campaign script they used in the 2004 elections.

In their first postelection appearances before the Democratic National Committee, which today will elect Howard Dean as its new party chairman, House and Senate Democratic leaders once again were accusing President Bush of giving “tax cuts to the wealthy,” sending jobs overseas and driving budget deficits through the roof.

In speeches aimed at pumping up the Democrats’ base in preparation for next year’s elections, both House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid repeatedly struck similar themes that came from the party’s campaign mantra last year.

Mrs. Pelosi said that Mr. Bush was “giving tax cuts to the wealthy few while cutting funds for children and restricting benefits for veterans.” She repeated the phrase “tax cuts for the wealthy” numerous times in her speech, a line that was a staple of Sen. John Kerry’s failed presidential campaign.

“Now he wants to privatize Social Security,” she said to a chorus of boos from the energized crowd of DNC officials who packed the meeting room at the Washington Hilton.

Mr. Reid similarly attacked Mr. Bush for enacting “tax cuts for the wealthy few” and “tax breaks for the elite.”

Some Democrats, including former Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia who supported Mr. Bush last year, have complained that their party is playing the “class warfare” card that may appeal to the Democrats’ core but not to the larger electorate that the party needs to reverse its decadelong decline.

But former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Mr. Kerry’s running mate, stuck to the same theme yesterday in his address to the DNC.

“Republican leaders believe in only one thing, wealth,” Mr. Edwards said. “President Bush talks of an ‘ownership society’ but it is nothing but an exclusive club with the doors closed for people who work hard for a living.”

One speaker, however, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, lectured the DNC about changing the way the party talks about the issues, suggesting that it was too pessimistic and needed to reach out to a more diverse electorate.

“We have to talk about economic growth initiatives. We cannot just be negative. We’ve got to have new ideas,” he said.

Mr. Richardson, who is chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and has cut income tax rates across the board in his state, pointedly distanced himself from the anti-tax-cut rhetoric of the party’s Washington leadership. “I am proud I cut taxes,” he said to little reaction from his audience.

Party leaders, who had backed other candidates for DNC chairman or who avoided taking sides in the contest, sang Mr. Dean’s praises yesterday and said he would help put the party back on the path to victory. Mr. Dean has promised Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid that he will not attempt to make policy but will follow their lead on the party’s agenda.

Making the rounds of party caucuses yesterday, Mr. Dean seems to have toned down his shoot-from-the-hip style, focusing on his campaign promises to strengthen state party organizations, but also agreeing with critics that the party had to change the way it talked about issues.

“What you are going to see is more money spent on grass roots instead of here in Washington,” he told the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus.

“We can’t wait until another Jack Kennedy or Bill Clinton comes along. The Democrats have to have a system as good as the Republican system,” he said.

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