Democratic officials are second-guessing the party’s obsession with attacking the Koch brothers, saying it bears some of the blame for last year’s devastating election losses as the focus on the conservative billionaires diluted a party message already struggling for clarity.
Doubts about the relentless attacks on the Koch brothers surfaced as the Democratic National Committee held its annual meeting Thursday in Washington, where state party officials from across the country mulled what went wrong in 2014.
Led by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrats repeatedly shifted attention during the 2014 election cycle to Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, who spent more than $100 million supporting conservative candidates through their various political organizations, most notably Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners Action Fund.
Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, accused them of “trying to buy America” and cited the brothers by name hundreds of times in speeches on the Senate floor. Democratic campaigns, meanwhile, begged supporters for donations to combat the Kochs’ money.
But some Democratic officials at the DNC meeting said the message doesn’t resonate with voters.
“It raises money for sure. But is it good to motivate a voter? No,” said a state party executive director who said he didn’t want to publicly criticize the national party leaders.
And Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said campaign finances issues were “inside baseball.”
“Americans are focused on bread and butter issues and could care less about who is funding the campaigns,” he said.
Mr. Martin, who leads the campaign finance reform committee for the Association of State Democratic Chairs, said that the effect of money in politics was an important issue but “people don’t care.”
Sharon Stroschein, national committee woman for South Dakota, defended the attacks on the Koch brothers but acknowledged that the party’s message, such as touting the success of Obamacare, was “getting lost in the shuffle.”
“I’m not happy with how the message is getting out,” she said. “It’s frustrating that we can’t do a better job.”
The Koch brothers and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce have announced plans to spend $889 million in the 2016 presidential and congressional races. But they have also linked arms with liberal advocates this year in a $5 million campaign for criminal justice reform.
The Coalition for Public Safety includes the liberal Center for American Progress and American Civil Liberties Union, as well as Koch Industries, the tea party group Freedom Works and the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, according to the New York Times.
Democrats’ losses in the 2014 elections extended across the board: they lost nine seats in the Senate, giving up control after eight years in the majority, and also yielded seats in the House, ceded several governorships and gave up seats in statehouses across the country.
Blame for the disaster has fallen on everyone from President Obama to bad candidates who Democrats said ran as “Republican-light.”
For her part, Mrs. Stoschein said that the time had come for DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has held the post since 2011, to step aside.
“She is doing a good job but it’s time for a change in leadership. We need to have someone new with new ideas,” said Mrs. Stoschein.
Mrs. Wasserman Schultz made a splash Thursday by rebutting former New York Republican Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who said this week that he does “not believe that the president loves America.” She denounced the remarks and challenged potential Republican presidential candidates and other GOP leaders to disavow the remarks.
Quoting Mr. Giuliani, Mrs. Wasserman Schultz told the DNC crown they should be outraged.
“Let that sink in a moment. A leader of the Republican Party said the president down’t love us and doesn’t love the country,” she said. “Is this what it has come to? Really?”
She noted that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is eyeing a 2016 White House run, was at the event with Mr. Giuliani and didn’t repudiate the comment. She also called out several other potential Republican presidential candidates, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“Stand up and say, ‘Enough!’” she demanded. “They need to start leading.”
Mr. Walker said on CNBC that “the mayor can speak for himself. I’m not going to comment on what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself.”
Mr. Jindal said in a statement that he questioned Mr. Giuliani’s “phraseology” but not his sentiment.
“The gist of what Mayor Giuliani said — that the president has shown himself to be completely unable to speak the truth about the nature of the threats from these ISIS terrorists — is true,” he said.