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2005 Spin: New Priorities vs. Status Quo

Talking heads for the two major parties were all over the airwaves Sunday morning as they sought to spin the results of last Tuesday's elections and President Bush's free-falling poll numbers.

NBC's "Meet The Press" hosted Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman; ABC's "This Week" played host to the chairs of the four congressional campaign committees.

At the center of the debate was (and will continue to be) a struggle for the reform mantle.  Both sides used the Sunday shows to jockey to be seen as the party of change in Washington. Democrats seem considerably better positioned to make that argument -- since they control none of the levers of federal power -- but Mehlman (and others) were unwilling to cede that ground Sunday.

"What [voters] want is change," said Mehlman, adding that he was "confident" about retaining the GOP majorities in the House and Senate next year because "voters will correctly see that this is the party of change and the party that is transforming government to deal with the challenges we face."

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) echoed Mehlman's talking point, arguing that the GOP is accumulating a "very strong agenda of accomplishment" -- noting, specifically, the highway bill and the prescription drug benefit under Medicare.

Democrats rejected that notion, arguing that if Republicans continue to promote their "agenda" in its current form it will lead to a major congressional shakeup in 2006.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) boldly predicted that "if the Republican party says more of the same, we will take back the House and Senate in 2006."

"They're going to talk about the status quo," added Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). "Democrats represent new priorities and a break from where we are."

Defining those priorities remains a major point of contention between the two sides.

Dean, along with Schumer and Emanuel, insisted that a specific agenda for their party was forthcoming; in the meantime, they will continue to point out the flaws with the GOP plan.

"Right now it's not our job to give out specifics," Dean told moderator Tim Russert. "We have plenty of time to show Americans what our agenda is. And we will, long before the '06 elections."

As he has done relentlessly of late, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) attacked the lack of a specific Democratic proposals. "There is no plan," he said. "They have delayed their own, whatever bumper sticker 'Contract for America' plan up until next year now."

Democrats are placing a huge amount of political importance on the unveiling of their policy agenda early next year.  If the eventual plan catches on with voters (like the House Republicans' 1994 'Contract With America'), the idea will be lauded for years to come.  If it fails, it will be back to the rhetorical drawing board for Democrats -- and another two years out of power...

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 14, 2005; 3:25 PM ET
Categories:  Fix Notes  
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