By Mike Lillis - 06/01/14 09:20 AM EDT
House Democratic leaders plan to launch a 2014 version of the "Six for '06" strategy that propelled them into the majority eight years ago.
Though still in the development stages, the strategy will mirror the 2006 campaign in featuring a series of specific policy points designed to distinguish the Democrats' priorities from those of the Republicans, according to party leaders.
"As 'Six for '06' did, it will have specific ideas that contrasts Republicans siding with special interests, and Democrats siding with the middle class," said Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
"This election's going to be a referendum on who's got your back," he told The Hill. "And so it will fit into that general theme."
House Democrats face major headwinds as they head into November's elections. To win back the lower chamber, they would need to pick up 17 seats – a tall order in a mid-term cycle when the party of lame-duck presidents has historically fared poorly. Compounding their problem, President Obama's approval rating hasn't topped 50 percent in roughly a year.
The Democrats weren't initially expected to take the House in 2006, but defied the odds with help from their "Six for '06" initiative. That campaign – officially titled "A New Direction For America" – was a play on the Republicans' "Contract with America," which helped former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and the GOP take the House in 1994 after decades in the minority.
Then, as now, the Democrats' campaign was designed to highlight the stark differences in the two parties' approaches to the leading issues of the day. Their six-point plan called for "honest leadership and open government, real security, energy independence, economic prosperity and educational excellence, a healthcare system that works for everyone, and retirement security."
The Democrats picked up 30 seats, handing the Speaker's gavel to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Democrats also recaptured the Senate in 2006 though the "Six for '06" was a House Democratic effort.
However, Democrats back then ran against an unpopular President George W. Bush amid the Iraq War and the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. This year, Republicans are repeatedly mentioning Obama on the campaign trail.
Democrats this year have not yet said what their campaign slogan will be, nor have they indicated which policy points it will feature. But several domestic priorities they've been pushing for many months seem likely to make the cut, including a hike in the minimum wage, an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, an overhaul of the nation's immigration system and a focus on boosting the status of women in the workplace. It likely will be released until after Labor Day when voters are paying more attention to campaign politics.
The strategy could help Democrats on Capitol Hill forge their own identity while distance themselves from Obama. But achieving those goals won't be easy.
Israel said party leaders are crunching the results of a nationwide voter survey gauging "the mood of the electorate," and they'll use what they find "as a basis for our policy proposals."
Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, characterized the emerging campaign as "a 'we're on your side' concept with some specific proposals."
"Our message is a clear one: Democrats mean that your life is going to be better; greater access to health care; greater access to education; greater access to opportunity; greater focus on jobs and making it in America," Hoyer said. "Democratic policies have been better for average working people and not-so-average working people in America, and that will be our theme."
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) this month launched its own campaign theme for the mid-terms. Dubbed the "Drive for 245," the initiative attempts "to engage Republican members of Congress, donors, activists, grassroots leaders and candidates in a coast-to-coast effort to maximize Republican pick-up opportunities in 2014," in the words of NRCC Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.).
If they hit the 245 goal, Walden said, "maybe we can finally send Nancy Pelosi into retirement and back to San Francisco.”
Obama and Democrats last year said they could win the House back. But now they are less bullish and have indicated privately they are looking to cut into the GOP majority.
Pelosi last fall told The Hill that Democrats "of course" will pick up House seats in 2014.