WASHINGTON – Defending an armload of historic legislative wins with a pocketful of arguments, President Barack Obama's Democratic allies in Congress are wooing wary voters 90 days before critical November elections.
His Republican foes, meanwhile, are using the month-long August break to press their argument that 19 months of Obama's leadership have failed to cure the ailing economy with unemployment still hovering near 10 percent.
Republicans have made "where are the jobs?" their mantra and cast every Democratic achievement -- including landmark overhauls of U.S. healthcare and financial industry rules -- and the rest of Obama's agenda as "job-killing."
"Policies originating from this White House are creating an environment of uncertainty and fear for business people and employees, preventing investment and hiring," the No. 2 House Republican, Eric Cantor, said Friday.
Democrats point to a steady decline in unemployment since Obama took office in January 2009 to underline their refrain that Republicans would return the country to the policies that set the stage for the 2007-2009 economic meltdown.
"Every day, congressional Republicans side with special interests over the public interest, and pledge to take us back to the 'exact same agenda' that got us into this mess in the first place. Democrats are standing up for a new direction," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday.
Historically, a sitting U.S. president's party loses seats in midterm elections in his first term -- and even the White House has joined a chorus of observers warning Democrats could lose control of the House of Representatives.
With all 435 House seats and 37 of the 100 Senate spots up for grabs, as well as state legislatures and key governorships, what's at stake is nothing less than the future of Obama's agenda.
Leaving nothing to chance, Democratic leaders have equipped their troops with a week-by-week plan of attack on key issues and four "pocket cards" laying out how to make the case for reelection in a hostile political climate.
And Pelosi's office provided a detailed blueprint of suggested themes -- Sept. 6 kicks off "Fighting For The Middle Class: Make It In America Week" -- and events -- "help install new windows or insulation with homeowner and clean energy workers" to highlight efforts to fight climate change.
The level of detail highlights the old saw that "all politics is local" and that, while the national environment plays a big role in U.S. elections, individual politicians ultimately face their own districts or states.
"It's a local calculation made in a national context," said Matt Dickinson, a political science professor at elite Middlebury College in Vermont. "It fits the times."
"The Democrats running now are banking on hopes the voters do not have incredibly short memories, but can look back over four years and saying 'hey, we inherited this mess'" from George W. Bush, Dickinson told AFP.
The guidance also includes advice on how to sell major Democratic achievements in what is regarded as one of the most active legislative sessions in decades to voters who in some cases may not see the results for years.
"It's not easy if you're banking on the public not only not having a short memory, but being able to look ahead and give you credit," said Dickinson.
Republicans have generally avoided offering specifics -- beyond historic policies like tax cuts -- and are relying instead on a message of "throw the Democrats out," said Dickinson.
"Democrats are going to lose many many seats. It's just a question of how many, and whether it's enough (for Republicans) to take control of the Congress," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist.
Republicans face a different challenge: Insurgent tea party activists on the right and the candidates they champion, whom some in the party say could drive off more mainstream independent voters.
One of the group's top prospects, Sharron Angle, recent charged that Democrats in Washington hope to "make government our God" -- a claim spotlighted by Democrats, who hope such comments will alienate moderates.
© AFP 2013