Tough rap for Democrats in the center

Al From and Bruce Reed of the Democratic Leadership Council discussed the DLC's aversion to the politics of interest groups and Democrats' chances of victory in 2008 at Wednesday's Monitor breakfast.

The middle of the road is not an appealing place to be at this stage in the 2008 presidential race. Just ask Al From.

Mr. From is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which was launched in 1985 to reconnect Democrats with "mainstream values and economic aspirations" and reinvigorate "progressive politics with a new generation of ideas."

Some 300 national, state, and local Democratic leaders are slated to attend the DLC's annual meeting this weekend in Nashville, Tenn. But none of the party's eight presidential candidates will appear for what the DLC calls its "national conversation."

"The third year of the [election] cycle, the candidates are focused on winning interest group votes," From told reporters at a Monitor breakfast Wednesday. "We were organized and have always been the force in the party that looks to general elections and tries to connect the Democratic Party to the mainstream values of the country. We don't play interest group politics…. I am pretty sure our nominee will be [at the DLC annual meeting] in 2008."

From, who served as the director of the House Democratic Caucus and as an economic adviser to President Carter, says one job of the DLC is to serve as a reality check for the party.

"Somebody in the party has to play the role of saying, 'Look, there is a reality out there, and America isn't the Iowa caucuses or a narrow Democratic electorate.' To win the presidency, you have to be bigger than your party. The nominating process often diminishes candidates to be certainly no bigger than the party and sometimes even smaller," From said.

At Monday's Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube, candidate Mike Gravel charged that, "The Clintons and the DLC sold out the Democratic party to Wall Street."

When asked about Mr. Gravel's comment, From said, "I don't understand this revisionist history that somehow takes the best decade that America has had probably in the 20th century and tries to make it some sort of an abandonment of Democratic principles."

Like many observers from both parties, DLC president Bruce Reed thinks Democrats will have an opportunity for a major victory in the 2008 election because of President Bush's extremely low poll ratings. "Democrats have to take the long view. George Bush is handing us our Hoover moment," Mr. Reed said at the Monitor breakfast.

In 1932, Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt was able to win an electoral college victory over President Hoover by a vote of 472 to 59 because of voter unhappiness about Hoover's handling of the Great Depression. Democrats maintained control of the White House for the next 20 years. Reed cautioned that, "We will only build a lasting majority if we put in place and carry out an agenda that works."

He disagreed with those who say Democrats risk blowing an opportunity to retake the White House if they nominate someone, like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) of New York, who has high negative ratings from voters. A June Mason-Dixon survey found that Senator Clinton was the only candidate for whom a majority of likely voters said they would not consider voting.

"The way our system works, by November 2008 the Republican candidate will have high negatives; the Democratic candidate will have high negatives," Reed said. "The question is who is going to win the argument. A campaign is an argument; it is not just a contest of each party's caricature of the other side's nominee. Democrats have a very strong argument to make, and we have a number of candidates, including Hillary Clinton, who are extraordinarily good at making that."

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