Monday, July 31, 2006

Democrats will spend August stumping on issues they say matter most to voters — such as raising the minimum wage and funding stem-cell research — as they scramble to try to regain control of the House or the Senate.

Some optimistic members of the minority party say a focus on middle-class matters could lead to Democrats’ recapturing both chambers.

By contrast, Republicans next month plan to highlight a need to strengthen the porous borders and to keep the conversation either on local issues or security matters, such as terrorism. Democrats say domestic topics give them the edge as they try to appeal to voters who are disenchanted with the way the majority is running the country.

“These priorities have a direct relevance to the lives of the American people,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Mrs. Pelosi, who would be poised to become House speaker if the Democrats pick up at least 15 seats in that chamber, said her party is “ready to win” and “prepared to govern.”

But Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, who leads the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicted Friday that his party will remain in power.

“It certainly isn’t going to be pretty, but trust me when I say it’s going to be a lot tougher on the other guys,” said Mr. Reynolds, New York Republican. “I’ve always said this would be a challenging environment for us, six-year midterms are the toughest for the party in power.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat who heads the Senate campaign fundraising arm for his party, said, “This is an election about change.”

In a series of press conferences in the days before the House adjourned for a more than five-week break, Mrs. Pelosi and the Democrats lambasted the Republican Party for being beholden to big oil and for wanting to help the “privileged few” instead of all Americans.

Mrs. Pelosi will visit more than 11 states next month, pushing the “New Direction for America” campaign to take back the House. Members and candidates will use the “Six in ‘06” agenda to show what a Democratic Congress would do in January.

The six points are: security and implementing the recommendations of the September 11 commission, raising the minimum wage, making college tuition tax-deductible, ending oil subsidies to lower gas prices, fixing the Medicare prescription-drug program and promoting stem-cell research, and working to “stop any plan” to privatize Social Security.

All but 34 Democrats voted against a minimum-wage increase pushed by Republicans during a late-night vote before the summer adjournment because they said the increase was unfairly paired with tax breaks and estate-tax relief.

The broad measure is unlikely to pass the Senate but gives Republicans some wiggle room in their campaigns.

Democrats said the “values agenda” that has been so trumpeted by Republicans for the past month is an example of misplaced priorities. The majority party passed bills protecting the Pledge of Allegiance and tried and failed to amend the U.S. Constitution with a definition of traditional marriage. The Senate failed to pass an amendment banning flag desecration.

“The Republican leadership doesn’t get it in the House or the Senate,” Mr. Schumer said. “They keep going back to the old chestnuts, and they just don’t work anymore. This is a different world in 2006 than it [was] in 2004.”

But Republicans last week brought out a new push — the “suburban” agenda that includes bills on health care, education and protecting children from Internet predators, and Mr. Reynolds said members will campaign on “pocketbook issues.”

Republicans also are banking on a tough border-security push driving up conservative voter turnout in November and plan more than 20 field hearings in several districts from Texas to Iowa.

Mrs. Pelosi said Democrats will point out that Republican infighting has led to inaction on protecting the border.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada didn’t want the “Six in ‘06” to be compared to the Contract With America, a list of fiscally conservative promises such as curbing government waste, which Republicans rolled out in 1994 to successfully win congressional majority.

“It’s an urban myth,” he said. “The Contract for America didn’t accomplish anything and most all the pundits say now didn’t change the election at all.”

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