Bloomberg News

Democrats Seek ’12 Political Gain in Occupy Wall Street’s Energy

October 11, 2011

Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Democrats are rallying around the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, seeking to channel the movement’s energy into votes in the 2012 elections by sharpening contrasts with Republicans who criticize the protests.

“If you’re concerned about Wall Street and our financial system, the president is standing on the side of consumers and the middle class,” senior White House adviser David Plouffe said when asked about the demonstrations during an interview today on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “And a lot of these Republicans are basically saying, ‘You know what? Let’s go back to the same policies that led to the Great Recession in the first place.’”

The protests, which began in New York City’s financial district and have spread across the country, are likely to be raised in tonight’s Republican presidential debate, sponsored by Bloomberg News and The Washington Post at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Dartmouth students and faculty plan a rally in support for the protesters this afternoon, before the 8 p.m. forum.

Facing declining approval ratings amid a slow U.S. economic recovery and unemployment hovering around 9 percent, Democrats are eager to attract disenchanted voters who identify with the protesters. Republicans successfully tapped the energy of the anti-tax Tea Party supporters last year to win back control of the House of Representatives and expand their numbers in the Senate.

Not ‘Mobs’

Democrats want the latest protest movement to help them keep the White House and pick up seats in Congress next fall.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises money for the party’s House candidates, circulated a petition this week telling supporters the goal is “100,000 Strong Standing with Occupy Wall Street.” The appeal ties House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s recent characterization of the protesters as “growing mobs” to Republican economic policies.

“Mobs? That must be what Republicans refer to as the middle class, or maybe the millions of unemployed Americans across the country,” the letter reads.

Last week, President Barack Obama said the movement reflects a “broad-based frustration” among Americans about the persistence of reckless practices on Wall Street after the financial crisis.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has echoed his comments, saying the demonstrators are angry over the lack of employment prospects and government actions that are “not relevant to their lives.”

‘Jobs, Not Cuts’

Moveon.org, a political action group aligned with liberal Democrats, plans to hold 275 events across the country this week in support of the protests, linking them to spending cuts being pushed through state legislatures by Republican governors.

“Americans need jobs, not cuts,” Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, said in a statement. “And Americans know we can afford it if big banks and the super-rich pay their fair share.’’”

While fiscally conservative Tea Party activists, many organized by top party leaders and donors like industrialists David and Charles Koch, volunteered for Republican candidates, it’s yet to be seen how the decentralized Occupy Wall Street will respond to the attention from Democrats.

The movement has no official spokesman, and many of the protesters’ complaints are directed at the Obama administration as well as at Republicans. They include the need to end the influence of money in politics, devote greater attention to finding jobs for the unemployed and raise taxes on corporations and high-income individuals.

‘Dividing Our Nation’

As Democrats woo the protesters, top Republicans have stepped up their criticism of the movement.

“Dividing our nation at a time of crisis is the wrong way to go. All the streets are connected,” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said yesterday at a town hall event in Milford, New Hampshire. “Wall Street’s connected to Main Street, and so finding a scapegoat, finding someone to blame, in my opinion, isn’t the right way to go.”

Another presidential candidate, former Godfather’s Pizza chairman Herman Cain, said the demonstrators should blame themselves, not Wall Street or big banks, for their joblessness.

‘Coordinated Effort’

“This is a coordinated effort on the part of unions and Obama supporters to distract the American people from the real problem, which is the failed policies of the Obama administration,” Cain said on Fox News’s “Hannity” program yesterday as he, Romney and six other participants gathered in New Hampshire for tonight’s debate.

The event is the first of the 2012 campaign to focus solely on the economy. It will be broadcast on Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg Radio and WBIN-TV in New Hampshire and streamed on Bloomberg.com and WashingtonPost.com.

Tea Party leaders are eager to contrast their supporters with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

In a statement released today, Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler, co-founders of the Tea Party Patriots, described their backers as wanting more fiscal responsibility in government and not subscribing to a belief the corporations are “inherently evil.”

The Wall Street protesters, they said, “want less of what made America great and more of what is damaging to America: a bigger, more powerful government to come in and take care of them so they don’t have to work like the rest of us who pay our bills.”

--Editors: Robin Meszoly, Leslie Hoffecker

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Hanover, New Hampshire, at llerer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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