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Washington- "Tea party" activists marched Sunday on Capitol Hill, promising to mobilize conservative voters on election day to take back the country.
"They say a storm is coming," conservative activist Virginia Thomas told thousands gathered under an overcast sky. "They ain't seen nothing yet. Nov. 2 will be a storm!"
Organized by the Washington-based advocacy group FreedomWorks, the march took place on a date heralded by talk show commentator Glenn Beck as a symbol of conservatives' political awakening. Beck did not attend.
Tea party activists used a similar march last year to galvanize their opposition to Democrats' healthcare overhaul. In the process, they established themselves as leading voices of opposition to the Obama administration and a threat to incumbent Republicans deemed too moderate.
"Last year was our Woodstock," said Anne Forgey, 69, a retiree from Huntsville, Ala. "I came this year because I'm still worried about our country. I'm worried about the direction we're headed. I believe they are trying to take away our freedom."
Like many at the rally, Forgey carried a sign linking President Obama's policies to socialism or communism, a central charge of the small-government movement. Forgey's placard read "No USSA" over a hand-drawn picture of a hammer and sickle from the flag of the former Soviet Union.
Although the movement failed to block the healthcare measure, it has had some success. Candidates supported by tea party groups have won Republican nominations in several states, including Alaska, where incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the GOP primary to Joe Miller. The next test is Tuesday in Delaware, where Christine O'Donnell is trying to defeat Rep. Mike Castle for the Republican Senate nomination.
The mood Sunday was upbeat as activists marched from the Washington Monument to the west steps of the Capitol chanting, "Vote them out!" A group from Savannah, Ga., was dressed as signers of the Constitution. Others lined up to sign a massive Battle of Gonzales flag — an emblem from the Texas Revolution — brought by a group from Austin, Texas.
Police and National Park Service officials do not give crowd estimates for events on the National Mall. Attendees covered most of the Capitol's west lawn stretching to its reflecting pool.
Many said the turnout was surprisingly strong given that a much larger rally, coordinated by Beck, was held two weeks ago.
Unlike that event, Sunday's rally was advertised as a political call to arms and an organizational tool. Several conservative figures used it to publicize their initiatives and reach activists.
Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, touted her website, Liberty Central. Conservative media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart accused the mainstream media of ignoring the tea party movement and promised to offer an alternative.
"We are a citizen journalism army and we are going to take our country back," he said.
FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said his group was already looking past Election Day.
"Every two years, politicians come to you to promise to change the culture in Washington," Kibbe said. "Politicians in Washington don't mean it. You can't change the culture in Washington. But what the tea party is doing today is changing the culture in America."
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times
Washington- "Tea party" activists marched Sunday on Capitol Hill, promising to mobilize conservative voters on election day to take back the country. "They say a storm is coming," conservative activist Virginia Thomas told thousands gathered under an overcast sky. "They ain't seen nothing yet. Nov. 2 will be a storm!" Organized by the Washington-based advocacy group FreedomWorks, the march took place on a date heralded by talk show commentator Glenn Beck as a symbol of conservatives' political awakening. Beck did not attend.
Reporting from Washington — As Democrats fan out across the country to campaign for reelection this month, many are surprisingly quiet about their hard-won accomplishments — the major bills they have passed under President Obama.
In an effort coordinated with the White House, congressional leaders are urging Democrats to focus less on bragging about what they have done — a landmark healthcare law, a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street regulation and other far-reaching policy changes — and more on efforts to fix the economy and on the perils of Republican control of Congress.
One year after many town hall meetings were upended by raucous anti-government protesters, congressional Democrats are trying to ensure that this summer's debate sheds a more flattering light on their party as they navigate a bruising midterm election campaign.
To bulk up their record on job creation, Democratic leaders have gone to great lengths — even calling House members back from recess for a special session Tuesday — to pass a $26-billion bill to avert public employee layoffs.
And in an effort to turn attention to their opponents, Democrats from Obama on down have taken to warning that giving Republicans control of Congress would be akin to reelecting George W. Bush.
"The question for 2010 is: Whose side are you on?" Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said to reporters Thursday. He spoke after a closed meeting with Democratic senators, where palm cards itemizing contrasts between the parties were distributed for lawmakers to carry around during the recess.
"Democrats moving us forward, while Republicans take us back," the card says.
Obama has been reading from the same playbook, comparing Republicans to bad drivers who want to retrieve keys to a car they had driven into a ditch.
"When you get in your car, when you go forward, what do you do? You put it in 'D,' " Obama said last week at a Democratic National Committee event in Atlanta. "When you want to go back, what do you? You put it in 'R.' "
Republicans see those attacks as an effort to divert attention from the weak economy.
"Democrats plan to spend the next month asking voters to overlook their job-killing policies by distracting them with dishonest attacks on Republican candidates," the National Republican Congressional Committee wrote in a recent memo to House Republicans and GOP candidates.
Democratic strategists privately acknowledge that their party's legislative record, while far-reaching and popular with party regulars, has limited political benefit in swing districts and in a stubbornly sluggish economy.
"Our candidates' job is not to sell the accomplishments of the past but to send a message that strikes a chord," said a senior Democratic advisor who did not want to be identified while discussing strategy. "I am not one who thinks our candidates should go out and sell healthcare reform. They have to stay focused on jobs, the economy and shaking up Washington."
Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), campaigning for an open Senate seat, holds most of his political events at work sites to emphasize his commitment to job creation. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), running for reelection in a GOP-dominated district, uses one of his first campaign ads to highlight his opposition to the healthcare bill and his effort to "protect coal jobs" in a controversial energy bill.
Rep. Kendrick B. Meek (D-Fla.), in a two-day campaign swing through Democratic strongholds in South Florida, barely mentioned the Democrats' legislative record.
The focus on the economy is a nod to a political reality documented by polling in both parties. For most voters, persistent bad employment news trumps perceived or anticipated benefits of Obama's healthcare bill and other initiatives.
With the House and Senate adjourned until after Labor Day, the White House and congressional Democratic leaders have coordinated their summertime message and strategy in part to avoid the imbroglio that marked last year's August recess, which laid bare the political risks of the healthcare debate that was underway.
Many Democrats' town hall meetings were disrupted by angry conservatives criticizing the legislation — a spectacle that riveted cable news television and amounted to the public relations debut of the "tea party" movement, which portrayed the healthcare bill as the epitome of big-government excess.
This year, town hall meetings are likely to be more low key, in part because many Democrats are seeking alternative venues such as teleconference town hall meetings that are easier to control.
But conservatives are also finding it harder to galvanize people around issues rather than candidates now that healthcare is receding in prominence.
"It's just a little quieter because there isn't an imminent bill to focus on," said Adam Brandon, spokesman for FreedomWorks, a conservative group that has helped fund and organize tea party protests.
That's fine with Menendez, who is doing all he can to make sure that voters view the election as a choice between political parties, not a referendum on "whether you like or don't like what we did."
"In everything we do, we have to drive that contrast," he said as the Senate wrapped up its legislative business and disbanded Thursday for the August recess.
Reporting from Washington — As Democrats fan out across the country to campaign for reelection this month, many are surprisingly quiet about their hard-won accomplishments — the major bills they have passed under President Obama.In an effort coordinated with the White House, congressional leaders are urging Democrats to focus less on bragging about what they have done — a landmark healthcare law, a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street regulation and other far-reaching policy changes — and more on efforts to fix the economy and on the perils of Republican control of Congress.
<p>WASHINGTON — Republican leaders are touting their sweeping bill to expand and reshape Medicare as a political coup for their party and a significant domestic policy accomplishment for President Bush, challenging decades of Democratic charges that the GOP is hostile to the interests of seniors.</p>
<p>Approved by the House in a contentious vote early Saturday, the legislation is now before the Senate. During debate in an unusual Sunday session, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced that she would support the bill.</p>
<p>But the legislation, which is expected to go to a vote in the Senate today, also poses political risks for Bush and his Republican allies. Some Republicans see a potential backlash from senior citizens when they discover that the prescription drug benefit is far less than they expect, want or need.</p>
<p>By embracing this major expansion of a Great Society program, Bush also risks alienating his party's conservative base, which is already disheartened by the growth of government spending under Bush and by Republican leaders' failure to muscle conservative judicial nominations through the Senate.</p>
<p>"I worry that Republicans are stepping into a political minefield with this bill," said Steve Moore, head of Club for Growth, a conservative political group. As a result, he said, Republicans could lose seats in Congress in next year's elections.</p>
<p>All but 25 of the House's 229 Republicans voted for the Medicare bill anyway, calculating that those risks paled in comparison to the consequences of failing to fulfill their promise to provide a prescription drug benefit for seniors, one of the most powerful voting blocs in the country.</p>
<p>But those cross-pressures underscore the problem facing members of both parties: The politics of the Medicare bill are almost as complicated and unfathomable as the bill itself. Polls have found that senior citizens overwhelmingly support the idea of expanding Medicare to cover prescription drugs, but that the more they learn about the bill before Congress, the less they like it.</p>
<p>That raises unnerving memories of the political imbroglio that followed the 1988 enactment of a bill to provide catastrophic health insurance coverage for seniors. Like this year's Medicare bill, that one was endorsed by AARP, the powerful senior citizens lobby then known as the American Assn. of Retired Persons.</p>
<p>After the bill took effect, many seniors rebelled against the new fees and taxes they had to pay, and Congress was forced to repeal the law. The backlash was dramatized memorably when angry senior citizens in Chicago swarmed the car of Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), then the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to protest the bill he sponsored.</p>
<p>"That's the ghost looming over this issue," said GOP pollster Glen Bolger. "Where are the politics on this? Everyone is scrambling to figure that out."</p>
<p>Democrats have problems of their own navigating the political cross-currents. Democratic presidential contenders have almost unanimously concluded that there is little to lose among primary voters — and potentially much to gain — by opposing the bill. Many congressional Democrats have been more cautious, however, cringing at the prospect of having to explain a vote against a bill endorsed by the national leadership of the AARP. But some take comfort that their local AARP chapters oppose the bill.</p>
<p>"It's going to take a little bit of explaining," said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.). "But I don't think it's the political slam-dunk Republicans are envisioning it to be."</p>
<p>Democratic leaders are pursuing a strategy — both for protecting their own members and for attacking Republicans — that spotlights the limits and loopholes in the new prescription drug benefit. For one thing, the full benefit would not take effect until 2006. And beneficiaries who chose to participate in the plan would still have to pay substantial sums in premiums, deductibles and expenses that would not be covered at all.</p>
<p>"When seniors see what's in this, they are not going to be happy about it," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).</p>
<p>That is a rare point of agreement between the liberals and the conservative Republicans who are opposing the bill. Moore's group, Club for Growth, released a poll last week showing that 31% of seniors opposed the bill when they knew little about it. But once it had been described in more detail, 54% opposed it, the poll found. An AFL-CIO poll reported similar findings.</p>
<p>The Club for Growth poll also suggested that the Medicare bill addressed an issue that was not generally regarded as a problem: More than 80% of those surveyed were satisfied with the drug coverage they already had. Conservatives also oppose the bill as a huge expansion of government.</p>
<p>"The politics are being read completely wrong," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a leading conservative opponent of the bill in the House. The best way to reelect Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress, he said, is by "staying true to the Republican vision of limited government."</p>
<p>Divisions within the GOP are personified by the split between Newt Gingrich, speaker of the House from 1995 to 1998, and the Texan who was his majority leader, Dick Armey.</p>
<p>Gingrich, the Georgia representative who led the movement that in 1994 put the House in GOP hands for the first time in 40 years, embraced the bill and urged House Republicans to vote for it as the first step toward a "revolution" in health-care financing.</p>
<p>But Armey, writing Friday in the Wall Street Journal, called the bill a "fig leaf" for Republicans' failure to enact real reform and warned that it was infuriating party activists. "The conservative free-market base in America is rightly in revolt."</p>
<p>Some Republicans argued that passing even a limited prescription drug benefit would be a political plus, giving the party fresh credibility with senior voters who could be crucial to the outcome of the 2004 election.</p>
<p>"It's a no-brainer," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis (R-Va.). "The public overwhelmingly wants this benefit."</p>
<p>Others warn that Republicans would be punished by the voters if they did not manage, with control of Congress and the White House, to make good on their long-promised drug bill.</p>
<p>David Winston, a Republican pollster, suggested that the failure to enact a drug bill last year was a big factor in Democratic losses in the 2002 election.</p>
<p>"The lessons Republicans should learn from that is, 'Failure is not an option,' " he said.
<p>WASHINGTON — Republican leaders are touting their sweeping bill to expand and reshape Medicare as a political coup for their party and a significant domestic policy accomplishment for President Bush, challenging decades of Democratic charges that the GOP is hostile to the interests of seniors.</p> <p>Approved by the House in a contentious vote early Saturday, the legislation is now before the Senate. During debate in an unusual Sunday session, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced that she would support the bill.</p>