WASHINGTON: In an effort to improve message delivery and counter Republican attacks, incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is implementing the first permanent communications war room for Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Dubbed the Senate Democratic Communications Center, it will boast a 15-member staff led by two of Capitol Hill's most experienced press officers. Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-MA) press secretary, Jim Manley, will head up the operation; Kerry-Edwards 2004 spokesman Phil Singer, a former communications director to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), will serve as communications director.
As staff director, Manley will oversee message development and communications strategy for the Democratic caucus. Singer is charged with rapid response.
The center's launch is scheduled for January 4, when Reid is sworn in as the new minority leader.
Manley will be facing a difficult challenge after Republicans strengthened their majorities in the House and Senate in the November 2004 election. Strategists on both sides of the aisle say that for some time, Republicans have been winning the critical area of message delivery.
The war room "is designed to amplify the Senate Democratic agenda," Manley said. "The Republicans have been successful...with a unified set of talking points to effectively communicate with the American people."
Manley said that by the end of January, the war room will have its own dedicated website. He added that starting this week, Singer will send out regular e-mails to media members providing them with important information on the Democrats.
That sentiment was echoed by Jon Haber, senior partner at Fleishman-Hillard and former chief of staff for Howard Dean's presidential campaign. Haber admitted that Republicans have done a great job at "message discipline" and have become more skillful than Democrats in delivering a specific message to the public.
"What the Democrats will have to do is lay out their vision of America, which is different from the Republicans," Haber said. "The Democrats are trying to position themselves as helping individuals, families, and workers. Each side is trying to position themselves as being for the little guy."
Haber added that the war room should use all possible communication avenues at its disposal, including cable and broadcast news, as well as local news outlets.
Although Democrats will be unable to control the legislative agenda, Haber said that one of the war room's challenges will be to find ways to force Republicans to grapple with issues they want to avoid.