WASHINGTON – Three days after unveiling a program to create jobs, House Democrats are turning their attention to rural America as they labor to end 10 years in the minority.
"Rural Americans deserve the same access to education, childcare, housing programs, medicine and health care that other Americans enjoy," says material prepared for a news conference Friday where lawmakers planned to unveil their effort.
The Democratic Rural Working Group (search) intends to emphasize efforts to appeal to veterans and law enforcement officials and bring "the latest information systems" to rural areas.
Earlier this week, Democrats unveiled a $125 billion, 10-year American Jobs Plan, to be paid for by repealing tax breaks that go to businesses moving production offshore. It consists of tax cuts and spending increases designed to help create new employment while helping workers harmed by the global economy.
In contrast, the rural initiative is largely rhetorical in nature, including a pledge to build "a stronger judicial and prison system in rural areas," for example.
"This is not legislation," said Rep. Charles Stenholm (search), a conservative Texas Democrat.
Even so, the decision by Democrats to promote their intentions reflects a belief that the road to a House majority runs through rural America.
Party strategists said they have identified 15 or more congressional districts in at least partially rural areas where they hope Democrats can compete this fall.
Republicans responded with sarcasm to Democratic claims of potential gains in such areas.
"I'm sure they'll trot out their major accomplishments like voting against corn and soybean farmers today and voting against the tobacco buyout," said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the GOP congressional campaign committee.
Forti said he was referring to legislation that cleared the House earlier Thursday. It passed largely on the strength of GOP votes, with 48 Democrats in favor and 154 opposed.
Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who represents a San Francisco-area district, played a prominent role in unveiling the jobs proposal this week. She is not expected to attend the news conference, although an aide said the entire caucus backs the group's work.
In recent years Republicans have won numerous rural districts formerly held by Democrats, in part by emphasizing issues such as abortion, gun control and gay rights.
Democratic strategists maintain such issues may be trumped by economic concerns this fall, given lost jobs and polling that indicates Americans are pessimistic about the future.
Stenholm, a member of a group of conservative Democrats known as Blue Dogs, said the organization is slowly expanding.
"As the Blue Dogs are expanding you notice (they) are replacing Republicans," he said.
"That's the battle lines. There are some differences and you're going to see some of them articulated" as the congressional session progresses, he said.