In a meeting at the Capitol on Thursday, Senate Democrats, senior staff, and an official with the Obama White House charted out an aggressive communications strategy designed specifically to avoid the perils of last August's recess.
According to sources in attendance and those briefed on the meeting, there were three distinct takeaways. The president will be playing an active and public role making a contrast between his agenda and the GOP's obstruction in the months ahead; non-governmental groups will help earn media coverage and drive the narrative; and there will be intense emphasis on keeping all candidates, offices and parties coordinated on the same message.
In all, three separate presentations were made over the course of an hour. The first was offered by longtime strategist Paul Begala who spoke specifically towards driving home a message that contrast Democratic accomplishments with the GOP's obsession with reverting to a failed agenda. The second presentation was give by Rodell Mollineau, a senior staffer to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who spoke on the need for coordination between all parties involved. The third presentation was made by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina who echoed Mollineau's comments in addition to talking, more specifically, about Obama's plans for the month ahead.
"It was all about contrast, contrast, contrast," said one attendee. "It is all about the contrast we are going to make in August. It has to be a choice and not a referendum."
"We talked specifically about the president and about his increasing contrast rhetoric would continue throughout the month of August," the attendee added. "Everyone in the room agreed he is our best speaker and has the loudest microphone. The more he can go out there and make those contrasts, and the more we can echo that, the better we are going to be."
To help drive home the point, lawmakers were handed pocket cards to carry around during the recess, succinctly echoing what has become a constant refrain from Obama himself in recent days.
Democrats are on the side of the middle class. We are fighting to cut taxes for small businesses and middle-class Americans, end tax cuts for CEOs who ship American jobs overseas, and create clean energy jobs that can't be outsourced.
Republicans are on the side of Wall Street bankers and CEOs. They support tax cuts for corporations who ship jobs overseas. But their economic policies failed under President Bush. Millions of people lost their jobs, the deficit exploded and the middle class got hammered. Now they want to return to the same failed policies of the past. We can't afford to go back.
Staffers, meanwhile, were passed a memo titled "This August The Choice is Clear," which offered similar bullet points to stress during the weeks ahead.
Coming after last August's dramatic setbacks, Thursday's meeting was designed to be a sobering reminder not to get complacent during what should be the political dog days. Being on offense was indeed the major theme of the session. And the fact that tidbits of the discussion were leaked to the press is a reflection of how eager the party is to appear prepared.
"This August is not going to be like last August," one staffer briefed on the meeting told the Huffington Post.
That said, there are some actual strategic innovations that accompany the renewed emphasis on messaging and coordination. A broad coalition of Democratic-leaning groups, including Health Care for America Now, SEIU, Families USA, Social Security Coalition, Progress NOW, MoveOn, USAction Jobs Coalition, Center for American Progress, AFSCME and the AFL-CIO, have begun efforts to coordinate what one operative called "a virtual war room." The idea is to drive narratives on an issue-by-issue basis. If Social Security policy flares up in a town hall, for instance, the groups in the coalition that work on the topic will be able to channel their resources there.
The war room, which will be overseen by the organization Americans United for Change (with help from HCAN), was actually kicked off last week. Going forward, the coalition will have daily calls to help organize resources, messaging, and the overall calender of events. The overarching goal, according to Jeremy Funk, communications director of AUC, is:
To help assure that progressive message frames have a robust presence in the local and national media narrative; to help assure that progressive organizations and Members of Congress are on the offense - not the defense; and to demonstrate that there is broad based public support for progressive positions - and create momentum coming out of the summer.
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