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The Morning Line: Dems’ Campaign Chief Says GOP Has ‘Destructive Agenda’

The Morning Lne

When Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., takes the podium at the National Press Club at 10 a.m. EDT on Friday, he’ll have two critical missions on his mind:

  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman is eager to make a convincing case to reporters and opinion/narrative-shapers that Democrats are poised to defy political gravity in November despite nearly every data point suggesting otherwise.

  • He wants to paint the possibility of a Republican controlled House led by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as a scary alternative for voters. Van Hollen plans to label Boehner’s economic policy ideas as part of a “destructive agenda” being pushed by Republicans. (Of course, one has to wonder why Democrats think using the GOP’s failed tactic in 2006 against then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will work against Boehner in 2010.)

The DCCC sets the scene thusly: “Chairman Chris Van Hollen will outline the strong, battle tested foundation House Democrats built to withstand the tough political environment. In addition to defining the choice between Democrats who are working to move America forward and Republicans who drove the economy into a ditch and want the keys back.

“Van Hollen’s remarks will focus on Republican Leader John Boehner’s speech earlier this week outlining House Republicans’ destructive agenda and the Tea Party pushing Republican to the extreme right. Van Hollen will also highlight the DCCC’s National Day of Action where volunteers will knock more than 200,000 neighbors doors this Saturday.”

(The House Democratic campaign arm is getting an assist with this DNC Web video hammering home the Tea Party-backed push to the right inside the GOP’s primary season.)

As the unofficial Labor Day kickoff to the political season homestretch approaches, here’s what Van Hollen is up against:

Last week, congressional race analyst Charlie Cook reported things are looking bleaker for the Democrats:

“The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome.”

After the latest round of district-by-district polling comes back, it’s conceivable that Cook may soon have a prediction that puts maintaining control of the House for the Democrats out of reach, which will undoubtedly cause a bit of a stir as news organizations begin planning their campaign coverage.

Thursday, POLITICO reported about the pessimism inside the Democratic Party with some already convinced that the House is lost in large part because of no appreciable signs of economic recovery.

To be sure, it makes no sense to call game/set/match with 10 weeks still to go. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear Van Hollen make some of the points raised by Hotline’s Reid Wilson in his post Thursday looking at some of the clear structural advantages still held by Democrats.

But Van Hollen’s mission Friday is a tough one. He’s looking to get ahead of a campaign narrative that’s beginning to take firmer hold around him. At the very least, he’s looking to buy some time. Democrats would like to get through the third quarter fundraising period, which ends Sept. 30, able to show top donors that hanging on the majority is a very real possibility as long as they continue to pony up cash.

MESSAGE DISCIPLINE

If you spend some time listening to senior members of the Republican Party — House Minority Leader Boehner or Mike Pence of Indiana — you’re certain to hear about two things: The federal government is spending too much money and efforts taken to help the economy by President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have failed.

For months, Boehner’s office has been firing off press releases that reference President Obama’s “job killing” agenda. Whether it’s the energy bill, the health care bill or the stimulus bill, the Republican leader finds a way to argue that whatever the Democrats are doing, it’s hurting the economy.

In a Thursday conference call, Pence echoed that Republican line, saying that his constituents are concerned most about “jobs and spending.” When asked what policies Republicans would employ to help the economy, Pence referred reporters to Boehner’s recent economic policy speech in Cleveland in which Boehner called on President Obama to fire his economic team.

Although the president’s economic team projected that under the stimulus plan, unemployment would peak at 8 percent in 2009, that rate is now 9.5 percent. However, the Congressional Budget Office released a report Tuesday that said the stimulus plan actually lowered the unemployment rate by 0.7 percent to 1.8 percent, or the equivalent of 1.4 million to 3.3 million jobs.

Take months of the GOP messaging and compare it to how Democrats are selling themselves. As the de facto leader of the party, President Obama’s last primetime address was about the oil spill in the Gulf. His next primetime address from the Oval Office is Tuesday. The topic is Iraq, not the economy.

Democrats in the House are left with going on the defensive, arguing that their policies made the economy better but more is left to be done. The Democratic National Committee is also attempting to marry the Tea Party to the Republican Party, while the House Democratic reelection arm, the DCCC, will aim in the final weeks of the midterms to tell voters that Republican candidates want to dismantle Social Security.

In July, two vulnerable freshmen House Democrats from Virginia, Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly, agreed that their party could use one overarching message to voters, a narrative as consistent as “President Obama and the Democrats kill jobs.”

“There is a story to be told that’s pretty compelling — both about the mess we needed to clean up and what we did to clean it up. I don’t think we’ve been very effective in weaving that narrative and telling it,” Connolly said.

— PBS NewsHour reporter-producer Quinn Bowman.

BIG EASY

It may be turning into the year of the outsider, but incumbent Louisiana Sen. David Vitter doesn’t appear to have much to worry about with his Republican primary this Saturday.

According to a Public Policy Polling survey released Thursday, Vitter holds an 81-to-5 lead over former state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor.

The poll also found that Vitter’s approval rating with GOP primary voters was 78 percent, while just 17 percent disapproved.

Vitter’s standing among Republicans comes despite Traylor’s efforts to highlight the senator’s public scandals, including being linked to a Washington, D.C., escort service in 2007 and his decision not to fire a Senate staffer who had multiple DUI arrests and domestic violence charges against a girlfriend.

One of Traylor’s biggest problems seems to be a lack of name recognition, with almost 60 percent of primary voters having no opinion of him.

Another is money. According to Federal Election Commission reports, Traylor has raised just $42,220 for his campaign since filing just before the July deadline. Vitter, meantime, has hauled in more than $7 million with nearly $5.4 million still left to spend.

Vitter likely decided to keep that money in reserve, anticipating a general election contest with Congressman Charlie Melancon, who’s expected to win Saturday’s Democratic primary. A PPP survey released Wednesday shows Vitter leading Melancon by 10 points headed into the fall.

DUELING RALLIES

There will be not one but two rallies Saturday on the Lincoln Memorial end of the National Mall on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Fox News’ TV/radio host Glenn Beck has organized an event called “Restoring Honor” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his remarks.

Civil Rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton will hold a separate rally at a Washington high school, followed by a march to the planned King memorial site on the Mall to mark the speech’s anniversary.

In a press release promoting the event, Sharpton assailed the intentions of the talk show host: “Glenn Beck and others are expected to push for the expansion of states’ rights — the exact antithesis of the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s legacy.”

Beck, meanwhile, remarked on a recent radio show: “Whites don’t own Abraham Lincoln. Blacks don’t own Martin Luther King. Humans, humans embrace their ideas or reject their ideas.”