POLITICS:

House Democrats vow to stay strong on environmental issues

CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- House Democrats will not shy away from environmental issues as they begin to rebuild and look toward the elections of 2012.

On the kick-off day of the House Democrats' annual conference on the Eastern Shore, where they are concentrating on job growth and upcoming election strategies, Democratic leaders told reporters yesterday that they believe they have a very real opportunity to retake the House in 2012.

Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, who is the assistant House minority leader, said, "I see a tremendous pathway for us to be successful in 2012."

Democrats must flip 25 seats to retake the majority after a November drubbing that saw them lose 63 seats and relinquish the majority.

Having President Obama at the top of the ticket will make a world of difference, the Democrats said. Clyburn pointed to the rise in the president's approval ratings, which he said have been hovering around 50 percent even before his speech last week in the wake of the Tucson, Ariz., shootings.

"We think that is significant," Clyburn said. "We also see that there's, in surveys I've looked at, there's one point between Democrats and Republicans in terms of the public's view of us. That puts us in a very good place, for us to have lost the number [of seats] that we lost in November and for us today to be only one point" apart.

Part of the Democrats' strategy will be to "compare and contrast" records, said Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, who is the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

"We feel that we've got a story to tell and the story had not been completely written by November 2010," Becerra said. "But now that we get to compare and contrast with what Republicans do -- not what they say they want to do, not to say they would have done, but what they do. Once you get to compare and contrast, I think our story stands up very well for 2012."

Undoubtedly environmental policy will play a part in that, Becerra said.

When asked if the Democrats would stay away from energy and environmental issues and if they proved too divisive in swing districts, Becerra said, "Environmental policy has been integral to a Democratic agenda and our policy. We also believe that is where job growth will occur in the environmental sector and in the new technologies that will create these jobs."

Becerra conceded that as a party the Democrats have not been as successful at messaging as the Republicans. On today's agenda at the Democratic retreat, several presentations are scheduled that focus on messaging.

"We never give the public a chance to savor our victories because we had so much to do," Becerra said. And after passing health care reform, he said, "What we didn't do is take time to tap dance about what we had just done."

Becerra said he believes in a time when "politics prevails over policy," the party will need to shift its focus to messaging.

Later today, Vice President Joe Biden will address the more than 138 Democratic lawmakers assembled. And at the end of the day in a closed session, the president will address the members.

Asked if Obama had any fence-mending to do after the elections and after his behind-the-scenes deal on taxes with Republicans, Becerra and House Democratic Conference Chairman John Larson of Connecticut said that the caucus supports the president completely.

"Our caucus is always very good at being able to express what it wants," Larson said.

Becerra promised that Democrats would not "eat our own."

And as opposed to before the midterm elections when many Democrats focused on distancing themselves from the president, Clyburn said that there isn't "a lot of sunlight between this president and the House Democratic caucus."

Yesterday, the assistant leader said that Democrats "delivered on every single agenda item the president requests in his two years -- every single one. There is not a single thing that he put forth that we did not pass out of the House."

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