Both parties find things to love about DNC chairwoman
WASHINGTON — It’s a rare moment of bipartisanship in Washington: Both parties say they are enjoying the performance of the new Democratic Party chairwoman.
In Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Republicans say they see a gaffe-prone attack dog emerging. Democrats say that, a few missteps aside, the Florida congresswoman is growing into her role well, galvanizing fund-raising and pumping up the party’s liberal base.
How well and how quickly Wasserman Schultz adjusts to her new position will be an important factor in President Obama’s reelection effort.
In any presidential year, the incumbent party’s chairman is on the front line every day, carrying the president’s message, making sharp contrasts that a president likes to avoid in an effort to appear above the fray. Apart from Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, few are more likely to serve as a more prominent surrogate in the run-up to 2012 than Wasserman Schultz.
This week alone, Wasserman Schultz, who took over the Democratic National Committee from former Virginia governor Tim Kaine in April, appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,’’ traveled to Florida for a fund-raiser with the president, and spoke to liberal activists yesterday at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis. Appearing with Wasserman Schultz at the fund-raiser in Miami on Monday, Obama gave his new chairwoman a vote of confidence.
“You want Debbie on your side,’’ Obama told the audience. “She’s a mom, she’s got that cute smile and all that, but she is tough. Don’t mess with Debbie.’’
Republicans, though, have been happy to mess with her, highlighting her mistakes and amplifying remarks they say do not befit a party chairwoman.
Wasserman Schultz has been forced to walk back a comparison of efforts in several states to require identification to vote to Jim Crow-era laws. She also has been criticized by Republicans, and rapped in several fact-checks, for her characterizations of Republican plans to restructure Medicare.
Wasserman Schultz recently criticized Republican candidates for opposing the auto bailouts and said, “If it were up to the candidates running for president on the Republican side, we would be driving foreign cars.’’ Then the Republican National Committee delighted conservative blogs by circulating her registration for a Japanese-made vehicle.
She delayed weighing in as the party leader on Representative Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York, waiting until a coordinated effort was underway before calling on Weiner to resign his seat.
“I think she got a big promotion that she wasn’t ready for,’’ said Jeff Berkowitz, a Republican strategist who has worked for the Republican National Committee under several chairmen. “There is a huge leap from representing a small liberal district in Florida to all of the sudden being the national spokesman for a major political party.’’
Wasserman Schultz is hardly the only national party leader to be taken to task by the opposition. Former GOP chairman Michael Steele faced intense criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike after a two-year tenure marked by a series of verbal missteps and chronic financial woes. Democrats say there is no comparison.
David Axelrod, a top strategist for Obama’s reelection campaign, said Wasserman Schultz has inspired rank-and-file Democrats. He acknowledged there may be some growing pains for her, but he brushed off criticism that she has stumbled.
“There isn’t anybody in this business who bats a thousand, particularly when you do the volume of things she does,’’ Axelrod said.
A mother of three and a breast cancer survivor, Wasserman Schultz, 44, has represented a reliably Democratic Fort Lauderdale-area district for four terms. Along the way she has earned a reputation as a workhorse and as an outspoken liberal happy to duke it out on TV with her GOP counterparts.
GOP hopefuls plan visits to Southern conference
NEW ORLEANS — As Republicans gather deep in the conservative South to hear from the party’s presidential candidates, they will also be sending a not-so-subtle message to President Obama — this is GOP territory.
No fewer than five GOP hopefuls were appearing at the four-day Republican Leadership Conference, planning to introduce themselves to activists, operatives, and donors who have not yet rallied behind a candidate in the early primary race. And from the beginning, it was clear any criticism of Obama would earn applause.
“He is a national secular European socialist. He believes in the government,’’ said former House speaker Newt Gingrich, whose campaign imploded last week when his top advisers resigned. In one of the first speeches since the shake-up, he entered and exited to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.’’
“He is the opposite of freedom,’’ Gingrich said of Obama during a sprawling, 41-minute speech.
Also planning to speak is Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who announced her candidacy Monday. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who is officially getting in the race Tuesday, scrapped his planned appearance because he was sick, his aides said. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is considering a bid, is on tap for today.
Notably absent: former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who leads in early national polls; aides blamed scheduling conflicts even though the event has been months in the making. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the Republicans’ 2008 vice presidential nominee who is considering running for the top job, also was not scheduled to attend. And former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty planned to campaign in Iowa and then speak to a conservative bloggers’ conference in his home state.
“In some ways, that shows they’re writing it off,’’ Christian Grose, a University of Southern California professor, said of the absent candidates. “Perhaps they shouldn’t write it off because there’s not a serious Republican from the South running.’’
Obama gets ready for daughter’s teenage years
WASHINGTON — President Obama concedes he’s nervous about his daughter Malia turning 13 next month, but said, “I’m not anticipating complete mayhem.’’
In an ABC interview, Obama described both Malia and younger sister Sasha as smart and funny and said that “they’re kind, they are respectful.’’ Asked how he would feel about Malia starting to date, the president quipped, in a reference to the Secret Service, that “I have men with guns who surround them all the time . . . and it means they never get in a car with a boy who had a beer.’’
Obama said he might ask Malia’s date “what his GPA is’’ and what his intentions and career plans are. But he quickly added that if the girls were watching the interview, “I’m just joking.’’