- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

Democratic strategists say their party has an opportunity to rebound because the electorate is still divided and support for the president is weak, but that Democrats must frame their debate better and send a clear message of how they would implement change.

“You have to oppose [President Bush], but from a strong framework,” said Stan Greenberg, Democratic strategist and co-founder of Democracy Corps.

Democratic strategist James Carville, co-founder of Democracy Corps, said in order to come back to power from their election defeat, Democrats must go beyond stark opposition to the war in Iraq and to nominees like newly confirmed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — justified as their opposition may be.

“It’s got to be a larger message,” Mr. Carville said yesterday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

He said Democratic opposition can and should continue, as long as it is tied to a theme of reform and responsibility. Democrats, he said, could focus on government reform, corporate reform, fund-raising reform, foreign policy reform, improving the United Nations or improving methods to protect America.

A Democracy Corps poll taken Jan. 16-20 found that 50 percent of likely voters want the country to go in a different direction, while 46 percent want it to continue “in the direction Bush is headed.” Mr. Greenberg said this means Mr. Bush is in “a tight position,” though the poll shows Democrats remain “extremely frustrated” with their party over the election.

The two strategists said Social Security reform is a losing issue for Republicans. Their poll found 41 percent support the president’s overall push for Social Security reform. When Mr. Bush’s plan is described as one that would allow workers to invest part of their Social Security contributions in the stock market, they said, support falls to 39 percent.

“I just don’t think they can succeed,” Mr. Greenberg said of Republicans’ focus on the issue.

Democrats should question whether moving Social Security funds into private accounts is responsible, Mr. Carville said. But Democrats ultimately must offer their own Social Security proposal, even if it is something general like a commission to examine options for change, Mr. Greenberg said. “I think Democrats have to have an alternative,” he said.

The poll found 55 percent surveyed said Republicans “know what they stand for,” while only 27 percent said the same of Democrats. The numbers similarly favored Republicans on “strength” and “protecting America.” Conversely, the Democratic Party beat Republicans by double-digit margins on being “for the middle class,” “equality” and “putting the public interest first.”

The top two issues that are not associated strongly with either party are “reform/change” and “opportunity,” the poll found.

The new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seems to be heeding the advice of Mr. Carville and Mr. Greenberg.

In a letter to supporters, Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois listed “phony Republican reforms,” including tax reform, which he said created record deficits and benefited large corporations, and now Social Security reform, which he said will reduce benefits by 40 percent and increase the national debt by another $2 trillion.

“It is up to us as Democrats to counter with true reforms that set the right priorities for American families,” Mr. Emanuel, a former Clinton White House staffer, wrote in an e-mail fund-raising letter.

But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said Democrats have foolishly staked out their opposition to Social Security reform before they even know what Republicans are going to propose.

“Our polls already show that people realize there is a problem — something the Democrats don’t quite get — and they want a solution,” Mr. DeLay said.

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