"It's about economic growth, and a lot less about economic grievance," said Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia. "We're the future. If our party wants to grow, it's with this kind of economic messaging."
"Democrats are at our lowest level since Herbert Hoover," said Rep. Scott Peters of California. "Democratic turnout was even lower than many expected in an off-year. It's clear that the plans and positions that our party was offering weren't compelling enough to get our own core constituencies out the house to vote. "¦ We have to be presenting a forward-looking plan for economic growth."
Washington state's Denny Heck was even more specific. "Prosperity can come if, and only if, we increase our economic growth rate by a greater percentage than is projected," he said. "GDP is projected to grow by about 2.5 percent. You can't solve issues of economic injustice at that rate, because the truth is that leaves an output gap of hundreds of billions of dollars."
The New Democrats' leader, Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, was less willing to dive into messaging battles, but he conceded that the Democratic message "didn't resonate with the American voters, at least those who showed up. As a party, we recognize we have to be more expansive, more inclusive, more aspirational."
Outside the event, staffers from the PCCC—an outside group that endorsed 11 current House Democrats during the 2014 cycle—handed out fliers bashing the New Democratic Coalition as "Wall Street Democrats" and blaming their unwillingness to back progressive reforms as the cause of 2014's losses. The pamphlet also questioned the involvement of centrist think tank Third Way in crafting their agenda, while name-checking several of Warren's policy positions.
Despite the groups' open dispute, a House Democratic leadership aide said the dustup was not a reflection of major discord within the party—whose members banded together last week to block a three-week funding bill for the Homeland Security Department, ultimately forcing House Speaker John Boehner to bring a full-year funding bill to the floor.
The aide insisted that the centrists who spoke up mistakenly believed Warren's message had been applied to all party strategy.
"We never used the words 'income inequality,' " the aide said. "Where you can win seats, that was never the message that people were asked to say. Wall Street reform was never one of the issues that people were asked to talk about either. "¦ There's a conflation problem with all of this. They're complaining about Elizabeth Warren and that's it."
The aide would not speculate on why the members chose to make a public issue of their frustrations. "You'd have to ask them why they chose to do that," the aide said, adding that Democrats' 2014 messaging was crafted "at many, many caucus meetings that Gerry Connolly did not show up for."