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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: June 2012

6 - Parties and Leaders


Election outcomes often motivate change in the organization and strategies of congressional parties. After the 2002 elections, in which Democrats lost seats in both the House and Senate, the party's leaders moved to better communicate the party's message on their legislative program and on Republican President George W. Bush. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) agreed to closely coordinate their efforts. Democratic leadership staff began to meet almost daily to set a message for the day that could be emphasized by all party leaders. Senate Democrats set up several “message teams” to promote the party's image on major issues, and Daschle asked Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) to take the lead in working with friendly interest groups and liberal radio talk show hosts, respectively. A New York Times reporter observed that “having lost the Senate and failing to win back the House, Democrats are no longer burdened by the need to pass legislation and keep either chamber running smoothly.”

The Democrats' adjustments in strategies and organization are typical of congressional parties throughout history. Unhappiness with the party's popularity, more than anything else, motivates legislators to seek change in party strategy, organization, and even leadership. And when one party's innovations seem to be successful, the other party tends to follow. Over time, the two parties in each house of Congress have developed more elaborate organizations – and they tend to look alike.