"They're not taking care of America. They're bankrupting our country and failing to address the problems," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said Monday, citing skyrocketing gas, college and health care costs.
Speaking to the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist think tank, she and three other yet-declared presidential candidates argued that Republicans have ignored the very people who make up much of the country. Democrats won't, they promised.
"It's the American dream, stupid," said the former first lady in a riff on her husband's successful 1992 campaign mantra — "It's the economy, stupid." It worked — Democrat Bill Clinton served two terms in the White House.
In that vein, the organization unveiled the "American Dream Initiative," a package of proposals aimed at strengthening the middle class and helping the poor work their way out of poverty. The group considers the 20-page document an agenda Democrats can unite behind as they seek to win control of the House and Senate this fall and the White House in 2008.
A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed that voters who make $50,000 to $75,000 annually were slightly more likely to back a Democratic candidate in House races, a reflection that Republicans haven't locked up the upper-middle income group they carried in 2004.
Exit polls from the 2004 presidential election showed that those with family incomes between $30,000 and $50,000 split their votes evenly between President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry.
One step up the economic ladder, however, those with family incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 supported Bush — 56 percent to 43 percent.
The document focuses on domestic issues, but Clinton, who led the initiative, said: "We will not let the president and the Republicans off the hook for the mistakes they've made and the disastrous policies they have followed abroad."
Her potential presidential rivals were less forceful, but criticized the GOP nonetheless.
"It seems to me that everybody in the country understands what this administration has done wrong. It is important now for this country to understand what we need to do that's right," said Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, the organization's chairman.
Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, a former chairman of the organization, called Iraq "a tragic, tragic mess under this administration" and warned moderates that the GOP is coming after Democrats on national security this election year.
"We've got to take this issue on and prove to the American people that we can do better than this administration has done," he said. That shouldn't be hard to do, Bayh said, given that "they have done a lot better at national security politics than national security policy."
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson took on the issue of energy, lamenting a "lack of national leadership" coming out of GOP-run Washington.
"This is ridiculous that the Congress has failed to address this issue of fuel efficiency," Richardson said. "Until there's a national leadership that will have a man-in-the-moon effort or an Apollo effort, states have to take action in the absence of anything coming out of this Congress."
Danny Diaz, an RNC spokesman, countered the criticism, saying: "Democrats may believe attacking the commander in chief in a time of war makes for good theater, but President Bush and Republicans in Congress are focused on continuing to create jobs and beating the terrorists abroad so America is more secure here at home."
Noticeably absent Monday was former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a moderate and a staple of the annual meeting who was on a long-planned family vacation in Europe.