The Democratic National Committee opens its winter meeting Thursday in Washington with the party still wrestling over a comeback strategy after devastating losses in the November elections and divided over how far the party should veer left.
In an attempt to reassure state party officials who traveled from across the country to attend the three-day conference at the Hyatt Regency, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Kentucky Gov. Steven L. Beshear each will address the crowd Saturday about preliminary findings from a task force investigation into what went wrong for Democrats in the elections.
President Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech at the meeting’s general session Friday.
The Democratic Party has labored to retool itself since the rout at the polls in November, when Republicans captured the majority in the Senate and expanded their majority in the House to the largest majority in nearly 90 years.
Democratic lawmakers responded by embracing populist rhetoric and a more liberal agenda, promising tax breaks and other benefits for middle-class families while vilifying Republicans for siding with wealthy elites.
Not everyone in the party has been sold on the strategy, but Democratic leaders will get to make their pitch at the meetings and caucus sessions for key factions of the party: young voters, homosexuals, women, blacks and Hispanics.
“There’s some real concerns about the message, or lack of message that the Democrats put forth in 2014, and I think that they need to figure out how to connect with working families,” said Thomas Mills, a Democratic political consultant in North Carolina who saw his candidate, incumbent Sen. Kay R. Hagan, swept out of office by the Republican wave.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be demonizing people for getting rich. It has to be offering a hand up to people who have been left out of this recovery,” he said. “I’m not sure that Democrats have the answer for how to talk about the issues that are facing the middle class and working class. And they need to get a handle on that.”
The party also has been rocked by scandal and setbacks for Mr. Obama’s agenda.
Just days before the meeting convened, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, resigned amid an influence-peddling scandal. The accusations of wrongdoing involved Mr. Kitzhaber’s fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, who was accused of using her job as the governor’s energy adviser to promote clients from her clean energy consulting firm.
On another front, a federal judge in Texas halted Mr. Obama’s executive action to grant deportation amnesty to more than 4 million illegal immigrants. Democrats rallied behind the president’s move and forcefully denounced Republican opposition to the unilateral action.
The administration was ready to start accepting amnesty applications Wednesday, but instead the White House and its Democratic allies were scrambling to regroup, vowing to fight in court and eventually prevail.
Still, the organizers of the winter meeting remained upbeat.
“The DNC meeting will be a chance to discuss our shared Democratic values of expanding opportunity and fighting for the middle class, lay out the contrast between the two parties, highlight our successes and talk about what we need to do to elect a Democrat to the White House in 2016,” said DNC spokeswoman Lily Adams.