These scattershot messages reflect what officials in both parties say are vulnerabilities among Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as President Bush's weakened political condition in this election year.I didn't think much of the Contract With America, and it's fine with me if the parties don't have coherent themes. I felt no dissonance voting for both George Bush and Russ Feingold in 2004. But that's just me. Maybe you like to see these characters more united. I'd rather see smart, good people who think independently. I think it's much harder to convince people that the party needs to take over than that an individual candidate is worthy. And that's very good, it seems to me. In any case, if they've got to coalesce into a theme, I think they are right to wait until they get much closer to the election. We've got 8 months yet.
But they also reflect splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat — and what a winning Democratic formula will be — after years in which conservative ideas have dominated the national policy debate and helped win elections.
And they complicate the basic strategy being pursued by Democratic leaders in Washington to capture control of Congress: to turn this election into a national referendum on the party in power, much the way Republicans did against Democrats in 1994.
Interviews with Democratic challengers in contested districts suggest that the party is far from settling on an overarching theme that will work as well in central Connecticut as it does in central Colorado.
And while Democrats have no shortage of criticism to offer, they have so far not introduced a strategy for governing along the lines of the Republican Party's Contract With America, the 1994 initiative that some Democrats hold up as their model for this year's elections.
"It's certainly worth the effort, but it's damned hard to do," Charles O. Jones, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said of the Democratic effort to emulate the Republicans.
"If you're going to run a national campaign," as the Republicans did in 1994, Dr. Jones said, "it's helpful to have a message, not just 'The other guys don't know what they are doing.' If Democrats are using that strategy, I haven't heard that message yet."...
Democrats pointed out that Republicans did not offer their Contract With America until the final weeks of the 1994 campaign and said that they were planning to offer their own version by summer.
March 6, 2006
Adam Nagourney writes about the difficulty Democrats running for Congress are having finding a coherent theme: