© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

National Democratic Party chief accuses Republicans of advancing 'fear and division' to win votes

Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine asserted Thursday that the Republican emphasis on the proposed mosque near New York's Ground Zero, and the growing inaccurate belief that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, "confirm a narrative" that the GOP is "whipping up fear and division" in the hope that such destructive tactics will win votes.

"The party of 'No' is wanting to go backward," Kaine told reporters after addressing national Democratic officials during today's "executive committee" portion of its two-day meeting in St Louis.

Instead of helping Democrats govern the country, he said, Republican leaders are "standing on the sidelines and throwing rocks."

Vice President Joe Biden is expected to build on that partisan theme when he addresses DNC members here on Friday, along with a number of state Democrats -- including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Gov. Jay Nixon.

Kaine's feisty assessment fit in with his brief address Thursday to DNC members, in which he declared that Democratic candidates in this fall's elections are "going to do a lot better than people think."

A former Virginia governor, Kaine acknowledged the "challenging climate" that his party faces, amid voter unrest and concern over the lagging economy and lost jobs.

But despite pundits' "doom and gloom," Kaine said that "a number of factors are moving in the right direction for us."

He cited recent independent polls that show Americans -- while down on congressional Democrats -- appear to hold an even dimmer view of congressional Republicans.

Kaine attributed those low GOP numbers to the public's rising concern about some Republican candidates' talk in favor of privatizing Social Security, curbing Medicare and Medicaid -- and calls for changing parts of the U.S. Constitution.

Some Republican congressional candidates are so extreme, Kaine said, that "they're calling for doing away with the 17th amendment that allows for the direct election of U.S. senators."

What Democrats need to do, said Kaine, is point up the GOP's flaws, while making clear to the public that "we've got accomplishments to celebrate" -- and to point them out.

Even the controversial federal health-care law can be a plus, he said, if Democrats will emphasize how Americans will now "face a future where they're not being abused by insurance companies."

As another hopeful sign, Kaine and others pointed to the national Democratic Party's greater success in raising money. The DNC raised $11.5 million in July, its second-largest monthly haul ever --- and the fourth month that the party has outraised the Republican National Committee, said DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse.

That extra money, Kaine said, should help Democrats correct the misinformation that he said Republicans and allied conservative groups have been advancing for months, largely unchecked.

Take, for example, the matter of Obama's religion. Kaine said he knows the president well, and that Obama is "a devout Christian" who has become even more religious as he's had to grapple with the challenging problems facing the country.

But the real message, said Kaine, is that religious freedom is not up for debate. "The 1st Amendment is not negotiable ... I don't care what the polls say," he said.

But some DNC members made clear they are still nervous. One committee member stood up to declare that he had been proud that Obama's message of "hope" had won out over "fear" in November 2008.

But now, he said, "Fear is back and back with a vengeance."

Officials promote St. Louis bid

Officially, the two-day DNC meeting here in St. Louis has nothing to do with the national party's selection process -- still under way -- in which it will choose St. Louis or one of three other finalists to host the 2012 presidential convention.

But unofficially, St. Louis' bid was front and center.

During their "welcome" speeches, Missouri Democratic Party chairman Craig Hosmer and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay didn't hide their ulterior motive of talking up St. Louis.

Hosmer reaffirmed Missouri's status as a "swing state," and emphasized that Democrats hold five of six statewide offices and one of two U.S. Senate seats.

Slay, meanwhile, drew chuckles from the audience when he began by noting that he'd been instructed "not to talk about" St. Louis' convention bid. (Click here to read the text of his address.)

The mayor then went into detail about what he "wasn't going to talk about," as he waxed on about the virtues of such local pluses as Forest Park, the Gateway Arch, the Art Museum, the St. Louis Symphony and "our free zoo."

Slay also pointed out that voters in St. Louis had rejected Proposition C, the statewide proposal that seeks to exempt Missouri from some of the new federal health-care mandates.

Kaine told reporters afterward that Proposition C's huge statewide victory in Missouri won't be a factor in the deliberations to decide whether the 2012 convention ends up in St. Louis, Minneapolis, Cleveland or Charlotte, N.C.

But he acknowledged that politics may play a role in the decision. In 2008, for example, Kaine said that holding the Democratic presidential convention in Denver, Colo. helped the party's performance in that state's polls that November. (Obama carried Colorado.)

For that reason, Kaine (who grew up in Kansas City and attended Mizzou) said the selection of the host city won't be made until after this year's mid-term elections -- raising the specter that a weak Democratic performance in Missouri in November could hurt St. Louis' chances.

Later primaries and caucuses for 2012

Much of this two-day meeting is about the nuts and bolts of political party operations -- mirroring similar discussions a few weeks ago when national Republicans held their summer meeting in Kansas City.

DNC members gave preliminary approval Thursday to a plan that expands the number of committed presidential delegates -- those selected in state primaries and caucuses -- by about 700, for a total of roughly 3,700.

The expansion is being made largely to comply with a 2008 convention pledge to reduce the percentage of Democratic delegates who are so-called "superdelegates" by virtue of their elective office, present or past.

With the expanded delegate pool, the roughly 500 superdelegates will make up about 15 percent of the overall delegates -- down from 20 percent in 2008.

The national Democratic Party also appears poised to go along with national Republicans who already have approved a new presidential-primary calendar that bars any primaries or caucuses before Feb. 1, 2012.

The move by both parties is to avoid a replay of 2008, when Iowa led a move that shifted the first primaries and caucuses into January.

Under the plan that national Democrats are likely to approve on Friday, the next presidential Iowa caucuses -- for both parties -- will be held on Feb. 6, 2012. The New Hampshire primary will follow on Feb. 14th, 2012. The Nevada caucuses will be held on Feb. 18, with South Carolina's primaries on Feb. 28.

All other states must hold their primaries or caucuses on March 1 or later.

As an incentive, the Democratic Party is offering extra delegates to states who hold later primaries.

The upshot for late 2011, said one Democratic activist with a smile: "No presidential campaigning over Christmas."

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.