House Democrats have found a way to address Republicans’ polling advantage on national security: Teach candidates a better way to talk about the issue of National Security.
While President Barack Obama still outpolls congressional Republicans on national security, a new Third Way/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll out Monday gives the GOP the edge in a generic Republican vs. Democrat matchup on the issue. And the problem is particularly acute for Democratic women: A study to be published in the Journal of Women, Politics & Policy shows support for Democratic women drops 11 percent when public fear of terrorism is high.
To combat the problem, House Democrats have asked Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank, and California Rep. Jane Harman, a leader on intelligence issues in the House, to help lead training sessions on the issue.
“The Democratic approach on security — or at least my approach — is that we know how to be tough and smart, not tough and reckless,” said Harman, a Blue Dog whose district is home to an enormous Air Force base and a number of intelligence contractors. “For some Democrats, this is difficult.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) attended one of Harman’s sessions when he was running for office in 2008. Now the president of the Democratic freshman class, he helped lead a session for other Democrats late last month. He said his party has to “avoid the trap of looking soft and weak” and that “there are strong adverbs, adjectives and verbs as opposed to weak.”
One example he offered: “I’m going to fight for American interests abroad” as opposed to “I’m going to defend American values.”
“Not that one is better than the other, but in language, one is more assertive and one’s stronger, and that’s where we need to be. Words matter,” he said. “The other side has paid a lot of attention to which words do you want to use. Democrats don’t always take this seriously.”
Republicans scoffed at the classes.
“The fact that Democrats have to train their own candidates on how to talk about defending America is an indictment not just of their candidates but of their policies, as well,” said Ken Spain, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Our candidates’ message is simple: Stop treating terrorists like common criminals, don’t import terrorists into our communities and listen to our military and intelligence officials instead of attacking them.”
But Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that national security will be an issue in the 2010 campaigns — and that it makes sense for Democratic candidates to be prepared for it.
“We’ve discussed a lot of the domestic policy issues, the economy, jobs with them, but we obviously want to prepare them to focus on national security issues and the issue of fighting terrorism,” Van Hollen told POLITICO. More than a dozen Democratic contenders attended a training session Feb. 25: Ami Bera, who’s running against Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.); Paula Brooks, who’s running against Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio); John Carney, who’s seeking an open seat in Delaware; Tom White, who’s challenging Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.); Bryan Lentz, an Iraq war veteran who’s seeking an open seat in Pennsylvania; Suzan DelBene, who’s aiming for the seat of Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.); Steve Pougnet, who’s running against Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.); Jon Hulburd, who’s seeking an open seat in Arizona; Chris Craft, who’s running against Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.); Scott Harper, who’s running against Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.); Juan LaFonta and Cedric Richmond, who are looking to challenge Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.); Grier Raggio, who is running against Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Ravi Sangisetty, who is seeking an open seat in Louisiana.
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