Dems search for clear mes­sage

De­spite Repub­li­can dis­ar­ray, lead­ers strug­gle to tell vot­ers what Democrats stand for

The Dallas Morning News - - NATION - Steve Peo­ples and Bill Bar­row, The As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK — House Demo­cratic Cau­cus Chair­man Joe Crow­ley hes­i­tated when asked about his party’s core mes­sage to vot­ers.

“That mes­sage is be­ing worked on,” the New York con­gress­man said in an in­ter­view this past week. “We’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to sim­plify it, but at the same time pro­vide the meat be­hind it as well. So that’s com­ing to­gether now.”

The ad­mis­sion from the No. 4 House Demo­crat — that his party lacks a clear, core mes­sage even amid Repub­li­can dis­ar­ray — high­lights the Democrats’ dilemma eight months af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the GOP dom­i­nated last fall’s elec­tions, in part, be­cause Democrats lacked a con­sis­tent mes­sage.

The soul-search­ing comes as Democrats look to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats nec­es­sary for a House ma­jor­ity and cut into Repub­li­can ad­van­tages in U.S. state­houses in the 2018 midterm elec­tions. Yet with a Rus­sia scan­dal en­gulf­ing the White House, a his­tor­i­cally un­pop­u­lar health-care plan wrench­ing Capi­tol Hill and no ma­jor GOP leg­isla­tive achieve­ment, Democrats are still strug­gling to tell vot­ers what their party stands for.

Im­peach­ment calls

Some want to rally be­hind calls to im­peach the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent as new ev­i­dence in­di­cates pos­si­ble col­lu­sion be­tween Trump’s cam­paign and the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment. Demo­cratic lead­ers are re­luc­tant to pur­sue that ap­proach as it only en­er­gizes the GOP base. Oth­ers want Democrats to fo­cus on the GOP’s plans to strip health in­sur­ance from mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. And still oth­ers say those ar­gu­ments can be fash­ioned into a sim­pli­fied brand.

“The Demo­cratic Party needs to up its game,” party chair­man Tom Perez said in a speech last week. “What I hear most from peo­ple is, ‘Tom, we not only need to or­ga­nize, but we need to ar­tic­u­late clearly what we stand for.’”

For now, at least, Democrats are wag­ing a tug-of-war largely be­tween the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the GOP’s at­tempts to gut the 2010 Af­ford­able Care Act.

Sev­eral lib­eral groups that had been laser-fo­cused on health care have in­ten­si­fied calls for im­peach­ment in re­cent weeks, in­clud­ing, In­di­vis­i­ble and Ul­tra­vi­o­let.

“We need to be talk­ing about im­peach­ment con­stantly,” said Scott Dworkin, co-founder of the re­cently formed Demo­cratic Coali­tion Against Trump. He warned on Twit­ter, “If you’re an elected Dem & you’re not talk­ing im­peach­ment or 25th amend­ment then find a new party.”

Fo­cus on health care

Demo­cratic op­er­a­tive Zac Petkanas, who led Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign war room, agrees that last week’s de­vel­op­ments in the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion shouldn’t change the party’s fo­cus head­ing into 2018.

“Can­di­dates need to be say­ing the word ‘health care’ five times for ev­ery time they say the word ‘Rus­sia,’” Petkanas said. He added, “I think it’s a fun­da­men­tal mis­take to make this elec­tion a ref­er­en­dum on im­peach­ment.”

It’s not that easy for some elected of­fi­cials, like Rep. Joe Kennedy III, DMass., who says con­cerns about Rus­sia have caught up to health care as a pri­or­ity among his con­stituents. He de­scribed the Rus­sian de­vel­op­ments as “a threat to our foun­da­tion of democ­racy” that de­mands at­ten­tion.

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