DEMOCRATIC Party national chairman David Wilhelm says his party's candidates for Congress should be extremely assertive this fall in defending the record of President Clinton and the Congress.
Mr. Wilhelm, who spoke at a Monitor breakfast meeting with reporters on Thursday, admits there are political problems for Democrats, such as the Whitewater affair. But he insists Democrats have much to be proud of: creating 3 million new jobs in 17 months, cutting the deficit, and advancing a tough crime bill.
``Voters ... will choose the aggressive, issue-oriented candidate,'' Wilhelm says.
But unless Democrats trumpet their record, Republicans will throw them on the defensive and distort the Clinton record with personal attacks, he warns.
Even with a well-run fall campaign, Wilhelm concedes that the Democrats could lose 15 or more seats in the House of Representatives. If losses climb as high as 25 - which some analysts predict - ``it is going to be very difficult to maintain progress'' for the president's programs, he says.
The chairman insists that the Republicans have serious problems of their own, however - especially the power of the religious right. Conservative Christians are a rising force in GOP politics in Minnesota, Texas, Virginia, and a number of other states.
The chairman says: ``You have the emergence of the `New Republican Party' in this country, the `Oliver North Republican Party.' [Mr. North's primary victory] in Virginia ... is going to be followed up by the capture of the Texas Republican Party by the radical right this weekend.''
Wilhelm claims 16 or 17 state GOP party organizations now are under the sway of radical Christian conservatives.
``This isn't about religion or faith,'' he says. ``This is about extremism.''
Wilhelm accuses the GOP of trying to repeat its campaign tactics of 1992, when it focused personal criticism on Mr. Clinton.
``If the Republicans go into this election with no other strategy than to attack Bill Clinton, and Democratic congresspeople say, `I'm fighting your fight...,' who are voters going to choose?... If that's the Republican strategy, so be it. It failed in 1992. It will fail in 1994.''