Top House Democrats bullish on 2012 outlook
CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- As they kicked off their party's annual issues conference Thursday evening here on the Eastern Shore, House Democratic leaders were optimistic that their party would rebound quickly from the shellacking it took at the polls 2 1/2 months ago.
"I see a tremendous pathway for us to be successful in 2012," House Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn (S.C.) told reporters at the conference's opening briefing.
Clyburn said that much of his optimism comes from polls showing President Obama's approval rating ticking up even before his widely hailed speech in the wake of the mass shooting in Tucson last week.
"If you look at the numbers that came out before the speech in Tucson, the president had gotten over 50 percent already," Clyburn said. "We think that is significant. We also see that there's, in surveys I've looked at, there's one point between Democrats and Republicans in terms of the public's view of us. That puts us in a very good place, for us to have lost the number that we lost in November and for us today to be only one point [away]."
Democrats need to win 25 seats in order to re-take the House in 2012. Party strategists have pointed to the 61 districts currently represented by Republicans that were carried by Obama in 2008 as a sign that the majority is well within reach, but it's still early to tell whether the climate in 2012 will be as favorable for Democrats as it was when Obama took office.
House Democratic Conference Chairman John Larson (Conn.) and Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) also were bullish about their party's chances of retaking the House, noting that Democrats intend to hone their message this cycle.
"We feel that we've got a story to tell, and the story had not been completely written by November 2010," Becerra said. "But now that we get to compare and contrast with what Republicans do -- not what they say they want to do; not what they say they would have done, but with what they do -- once you get to compare and contrast, I think our story stands up very well for 2012."
Larson echoed Clyburn's point that Obama will be more of an asset than a liability to the party in 2012, saying that the president's presence at the top of the ticket "helps enormously" for Democrats downballot.
Both Obama and Vice President Biden will address the issues conference on Friday. Biden's address is the only portion of the conference that is open to the media. According to a leadership aide, Obama is expected to deliver brief remarks Friday evening to the more than 130 House Democrats in attendance, and then to spend time talking with lawmakers on a personal level.
After a lame-duck session that saw many liberal Democrats in open revolt against the president, Obama might have some fence-mending to do with members of the caucus this weekend. But Democratic leaders dismissed that notion Thursday night.
"I don't think there is a lot of sunlight between this president and the House Democratic caucus," Clyburn said, noting that House Democrats "delivered on every single agenda item that the president requested during his two years; every single one."
Larson added that what House Democrats expect to hear from Obama is "candor" and an address that focuses on jobs and the party's domestic agenda.
"But most of all, we're going to hear from him," Larson added. "He's our leader; he's the leader of the free world. And we are entirely behind and support the president of the United States."
On Thursday evening, the first night of the conference, Reps. Bruce Braley (Iowa), Rick Larsen (Wash.) and Sanford Bishop (Ga.) and former congressman Glenn Nye (Va.) were slated to take part in a panel discussion, chaired by Clyburn, about the close races they ran and (with the exception of Nye) won last year. Then, lawmakers were to attend a "Taste of Maryland" dinner.
Friday will will kick off with a breakfast panel moderated by Larson, House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel and a representative from the U.S. Capitol Police at which lawmakers' spouses will be able to ask questions regarding members' security.
Then members will attend breakout panels; Reps. Frank Pallone (N.J.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.) and John Lewis (Ga.) will run three different sessions on messaging, and Rep. Mike Honda (Calif.) is holding one on new technology and new-media messaging.
That will be followed by a welcome session for the handful of freshman House Democrats and a presentation by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) focusing on the agenda for the coming year.
House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) will lead a session on his "Make It in America" agenda, and Democratic pollster Mark Mellman will also address members. Then Biden will speak, followed by some more breakout sessions. Obama's visit will round out the night, and members are slated to depart Saturday morning.
| January 20, 2011; 8:00 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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