Washington Prowler

Grade Expectations

Democrats will need to pull some all-nighters. Also: Al Gore fails to register.

By 10.4.02

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PANIC CITY
House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle will probably get together with Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe in the next couple of days, based on the alarming polling that the Democratic Congressional leaders are seeing.

"This past week may have been the worst for the party in a long time," says a staffer on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "We're just getting hammered."

The polling indicates that Democratic voters contacted early in the week gave highly unfavorable ratings to the Democratic Party in general, and when asked to give examples why, listed the now infamous error-filled memo written by singer Barbra Streisand, and the appearances of Reps. David Bonior and Jim McDermott on national TV last Sunday from Baghdad. Al Gore was also mentioned as a negative. Overall, nearly 40 percent of those Democrats polled had a negative view of the party and its positions on Iraq.

In meetings this week with colleagues, Gephardt has been especially harsh in this comments about Bonior and McDermott, both of whom stood on a rooftop in Baghdad and lobbed verbal missiles at the United States. Bonior, who is a lame duck member after an embarrassing loss in the Michigan gubernatorial primary, accused the United States of being responsible for just about every illness suffered by a child in Iraq, while McDermott claimed that he knew George W. Bush would lie to the American public so he could go to war.

"Gephardt is so pissed off at those two," says a House leadership aide. "He didn't give a damn about what Bonior did, he's not his problem anymore, but he did care about McDermott's behavior. The leader asked him not to spout off on TV, but even after he's back and seen the controversy, McDermott can't keep his mouth shut. It's amazing."

And while Gephardt tried to make light of the memo faxed to him by the singer/Democratic fundraiser Streisand, he privately was embarrassed by its tone. "He's afraid people will think he gets pulled around by the nose by that woman," says one of staffers.

While McAuliffe believes the party is poised to practically sweep every major gubernatorial election -- from California to New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and, if polls continue apace, perhaps even Florida -- he is has grown increasingly concerned about the state of the House and Senate votes. To address those concerns, he's pouring millions of previously unbudgeted dollars into Senate races in Texas, North Carolina, New Hampshire and now New Jersey. "The result is that we may be hampered in 2004, we're spending so much now," says a DNC staffer.

FIGHTING THE LAST GORE
"Like a lost driver who won't stop to ask for directions, the president clutches his old plan and continues racing in the wrong direction, farther and farther into the economic wilderness, with the fate of nearly 300 million Americans in tow." Those were the words of Al Gore on Wednesday afternoon. He was speaking of President Bush, but he could just as well have talking about himself.

Democrats, while publicly supportive of the Gore talk on economics at the Brookings Institution, privately said they were alarmed that after all of the criticism heaped on his left-leaning, class warfare politicking in 2000, he seemed incapable of moving past it.

"He's never had a good ear for what the public wanted or needed to hear, and this was another example of it," says a Democratic strategist who heard the speech.

In speaking with Democrats beforehand, Gore was advised, according to Capitol Hill Democratic sources, to try to make the speech as middle of the road as possible. Instead, Gore focused on criticizing Bush's tax policies and joking about the White House's Enron-style accounting.

"That wasn't the speech we wanted him to make," says a Democratic House member. "He didn't ask for my opinion, nor should he. But if he did, I'd have told him not to speak at all. By his lack of specificity and constructive commentary, he's not doing us any good. That's our problem right now: all we can do is complain. We have no ideas, no solutions, no suggestions."

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