WASHINGTON – Democrats are preparing for a tough election season and have mapped out President Bush as their number one target.
"He has broken his word on every major promise that he made when he ran for president," said Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
GOP strategy documents indicate Republicans have been expecting the onslaught and are preparing their own response. It starts with the acknowledgement that the president could not change Washington's partisan tone.
"Don't kid yourself. There is no new tone in politics. Democrats are going to be mean, nasty and negative. Be aggressive," says a new document produced by the polling group Public Opinion Strategies.
POS has told Republicans that voters perceive the parties headed for a match-up of "Republicans on taxes and terrorism versus Democrats on economy, education and the elderly."
But the GOP memo to incumbents says they can't rely on the president's popularity ratings or the taxes and terrorism issue to win back the Senate and keep the House of Representatives in November.
"Frankly, I have never subscribed to the notion that there is a coattail effect," said Republican National Committee Chairman Mark Racicot. "You can't presume that anything is going to happen just because you show up.
Still, Democrats hope to prevent the president from using the war to boost GOP candidates.
"He needs to be careful when he goes and tells people that you have to vote for a certain member of Congress because they will help fight the war on terrorism. There's just no place for that today," McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe said the Democratic message is going to focus on broken promises by the president with the aim of turning public opinion away from Republicans, and hopefully toward the Democrats.
"Republicans break their promises that they make to the American people. The only promises Republicans keep are the ones that they make to the special interests," he said.
Republicans deny broken promises and say the problem is Democrats demand progress but block action in the Democratically-controlled Senate.
"American people know that on the one hand you can't cry wolf and then do absolutely nothing about it," Racicot said.
The pollsters urge incumbents to use their congressional franking privileges for free mail to communicate with constituents at home, an illegal activity if the franked mail is purely political. But most lawmakers use it to raise their profiles during campaign season.
Ultimately, both sides say there are three key voting blocs in this election: women, independents and seniors, and whoever wins two out of three wins the election.