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DNC attack: GOP = Tea Party

From NBC's Ali Weinberg
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and several Democratic House members today unveiled the new Democratic midterm attack plan against Republicans: GOP = Tea Party.

In an effort to demonstrate what they see as the dangers of Republican Congressional control, Democrats will spend the next few months until Election Day trying to tie all Republicans to policies advocated by some members of the Tea Party, including repealing the health care and Wall Street reform laws, abolishing the Departments of Labor and Education and the EPA, and ending Medicare.

Kaine said the DNC has an "aggressive" plan, along with the White House "to make sure the American people know what the Republicans really believe what their blueprint for governing is," tracking candidates' comments on the campaign trail, distributing research, and airing commercials nationwide.

He said what he sees as the Tea Party's extreme agenda is reflected in the beliefs of most of the GOP House leadership. As evidence of mainstream Republicans' acceptance of Tea Party policies, Kaine pointed to the decisions of some members of Republican House leadership to join the new Tea Party Caucus -- the first official iteration of the movement within the halls of Capitol Hill.

Kaine noted that the caucus garnered support from Republican leaders like NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence. "The Republican Party agenda has become the Tea Party agenda, and vice versa," he said.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz later added, "Essentially, you don't know where the Republican Party ends and the Tea Party begins."

The centerpiece of the DNC's new campaign is a parody of the Tea Party Patriots' "Contract From America" and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich's 1990s-era Contract With America. The Tea Party's contract laid out the group's 10 priorities, including repealing the health-care law -- the only point that appears on both the Tea Party list and the Democrats.'

The ten agenda items on the DNC's "Republican Tea Party Contract On America" are privatizing Social Security, ending Medicare, extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, repealing the financial regulation overhaul and the health care reform law, protecting those responsible for the oil spill, abolishing the departments of Education and Energy, as well as the EPA, and repealing the 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of senators.

The strategy carries some risk for Democrats. Several vulnerable members are running in conservative-leaning districts. However, in the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (June 17-21), just 24% of self-described moderates viewed the Tea Party positively and 37% viewed it negatively. Another 39% were either neutral, didn't know, or weren't sure. (Conservatives were the only ideological group in which a majority viewed them favorably -- 56%-12%.

"This isn't a joke," Kaine said. "These are things Republicans will pursue if they were back in power, positions that would halt the progress that we have made in a very difficult time."

Repeating a common Democratic campaign line -- that their party must stay in power in order to undo Republican damage -- Kaine said, "The election in November is a choice, and the positions of this contract are what the American people have to look forward to if they put Republicans back in charge."

One reporter at the event pointed out that some of the "Contract On America's" more extreme policies, like repealing the 17th Amendment, do not reflect the beliefs of the Republican leadership. Kaine said, "We welcome anybody on the other side coming forward and disabusing Americans that this is what they plan to do. ... If they violently disagree with any of them, I'm sure that we'll hear that."

"They're one and the same," Rep. Wasserman-Schultz added. "Their standardbearers, their nominees for race after race, they stand at rallies with Tea Party people who embrace this agenda," she said.

Democrats' dare to Republicans to disavow specific points in the contract also highlights the danger for the GOP, particularly for someone like Sessions, who is tasked with trying to get Republicans elected to the House.

The GOP was quick to respond, but didn't refute specific points. Republican National Committee spokeswoman Katie Wright called the Democrats' faux contract, "the DNC's latest attempt to distract voters from the Democrats' failing agenda and falling poll numbers."

In a statement e-mailed to reporters shortly after the Democrats' press conference, Wright wrote that Democrats are unwilling to equate voter frustration with their failed policies. "Not wanting a repeat of last summer's Town Hall meetings, the Democrats strategy for this summer appears be attacking voters as opposed to listening to them," Wright wrote.