WASHINGTON – Democrats roused the party faithful Friday at a national committee winter meeting that used President Bush as a target of attack over dissatisfaction with homeland security funding, job creation and spending on social programs.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California led the charge, in which she called on Democrats "to expose the rhetorical gap between George Bush's lofty rhetoric and the harsh reality of his policies."
"George W. Bush inherited from the Clinton administration a strong economy with the best-trained work force in the world, a low unemployment rate and an unprecedented budget surplus, as the chairman mentioned. In just two years, he has squandered that into a weak economy, with 8 million Americans out of work and budget deficits as far as the eye can see," Pelosi said.
At Friday's meeting, four of the nine Democrats who have already announced their intent to run for president were given their moment to stand out to the party rank and file who rallied in support all of them regardless of who emerges as the nominee.
Among the leaders of the pack is Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who told the assembly that the central purpose of his campaign would be to return the country to the economic policies of the Clinton era.
"We cannot be strong in the world if we are not strong at home," Lieberman said. "George W. Bush has pursued policies that left us weak at home."
Lieberman, however, had to explain to the audience how he could sponsor the congressional resolution to authorize military action against Iraq, and still manage dissatisfaction with the president whom he propped up with the bill.
"I intend to recapture the mainstream of American politics, and defeat a president who campaigned as a centrist but governed as a rightist," Lieberman said as he explained that while he supports military action, he thinks Bush has alienated allies with his with-us-or-against-us attitude.
Other presidential contenders, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, were even more critical of the president.
"What I want to know is why the Democratic Party leadership is supporting the president's unilateral war against Iraq?" Dean asked to shouts of "Howard, Howard."
"I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," he said.
"Duct tape is no substitute for diplomacy and the saber-rattling that has made us all hostage to fear must stop," Moseley-Braun said.
But Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, who sponsored the Iraq resolution in the House, told the audience not to be easily lured into believing that just because the economy is struggling that Bush is going down.
"George Bush is not going to be easy to beat. This is a guy who came in second in the election and still figured out how to get in the Oval Office. Don't underestimate him. Don't underestimate him," Gephardt said.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was also speaking at the first session of the three-day meeting that began Thursday. DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe told the candidates that the party would do everything possible to back the nominee, and he asked them to make a similar effort.
"I pledge to you that your party will be ready to win back the White House once this primary process is over," the chairman said. "You will have the money, the message delivery systems, the maps and the mobilization targets and plans you need for the general election."
"All we ask from you the candidates is one simple thing in return — your pledge to come together and support our nominee once the primary process wraps up in the spring of 2004," McAuliffe said. "The politics of division is the Republican model."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.