Washington Bureau

07.17.14

Top Democrat: Party Doesn't Have National Message

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said at a Thursday breakfast that her party did not have a national message for the 2014 midterms. Instead, Democrats were changing their ideological focus from race to race.

For Democrats this midterm election cycle, the national message is… there is no national message.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz dismissed the idea that the party would be pressing any sort of national agenda, preferring instead to allow individual candidates determine their own issues to run on. 

“A midterm is a much more localized election. You are going to have issues that they'll focus on in Arkansas that will be different from what they focus on in California," she told reporters at a Thursday breakfast hosted by Third Way. “[Republicans] want to nationalize the agenda… They oppose all the things we should be doing that we should be doing to move the economy forward.” 

A national Democratic message on controversial issues like the Supreme Court's controversial decision about contraception in Hobby Lobby wasn’t necessary, the chairwoman said: "they might be national issues, but they're going to be focused locally."  

Wasserman-Schultz, a five-term congresswoman from South Florida, also dismissed the idea that President Obama's national unpopularity – his approval rating stands at 43 percent, according to an average of Gallup polls from January to June – would be a drag on Democratic chances at the polls, or that it factored into the local politics mindset.

"These are local races -- members are running their own races,” the Florida Democrat said. "President Obama has been relentlessly there for Democrats, has helped us raise money, he's going to be out there on the trail… he's going to be involved and engaged in the races where he's the most needed… and continues to be a really strong asset for us. 

But the DNC chair declined to directly answer a reporter’s question over whether it might be too much of a stretch for Democrats to retake the House. 

"I've said all along that we have a really good chance to pick up seats,” she said. "The way it'll be defined here is if we pick up seats, whether we win the majority or not, that's a win."  

The Democrats face long odds, at least from a historical perspective. The party that controlled the White House has only gained seats in a midterm election twice since 1934: 1998, marking the end of Newt Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker, and 2002, during the runup to the Iraq War.

As peak campaign season nears, the DNC chairwoman said she didn’t think that her committee had a problem with insufficient contracting with and hiring of minorities. A recent study showed that less than 2 percent of the money the Democratic Party spent on consultants over the past two election cycles went to firms with minority ownership.

Wasserman-Schultz said that the DNC had hired a chief diversity officer, and had exceeded goals for diversity spending during the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

"We have made tremendous progress and we are focused on making even more progress," she said, in response to a question from The Daily Beast. “[Minority staffer and consultants] are there, they’re just fewer and farther between, and you have to look for them… No, not only do I think it's not a problem, I'm very proud of the progress we've made."