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Dodd Outlines His Plan to Revamp Badly Damaged Party

SEN. Christopher Dodd remembers.

He remembers his freshman year in the House of Representatives in 1974, when Republicans talked about changing the name of their party in the wake of Watergate. He remembers 1980, when he was the sole Democrat in his freshman class in the Senate and his party lost control of the chamber. He remembers when President Bush rode a seemingly insurmountable wave of public support in 1991 after the Gulf war.

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And now, the silver-thatched lawmaker from Connecticut, freshly appointed as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is determined to engineer another great political comeback, resurrecting the Democratic Party during what he considers its most challenging moment in his lifetime.

At a Monitor breakfast yesterday, he outlined a two-pronged strategy to recapture Capitol Hill and keep President Clinton in the White House in 1996:

* On the legislative front, Democrats need to champion the core economic issues that Americans are most concerned about, including deficit reduction and health care - issues that affect the ability of working-class people to care for families and educate their children.

``The Democrats have a wonderful opportunity to challenge the Republicans on fiscal responsibility.... Their proposals don't add up, they're blue smoke and mirrors,'' he says.

But the chairman is careful to draw the thin line between obstruction and capitulation in response to the Republican agenda on Capitol Hill. ``If we just fought every issue for the sake of fighting it ... we're going to pay a price politically.''

* On the organization front, Democrats need to marshall the foot soldiers at the local and state levels, he says. This means getting out the message about the party's accomplishments and principles and getting voters to join in the electoral process.

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