An unlit fireplace, overstuffed couch and folding chairs for a half-dozen people may not buckle the knees of elected Republicans, but it may herald the humble beginnings of new political direction.
At least, that was the hope of Utah's Democratic Party leaders Tuesday evening as they organized a total of 17 political house parties across the state.
Hosted by everyone from legislative leaders to political newcomers, the informal gatherings were part of a national effort to build momentum for Democrats as they eye the 2006 elections. They included a conference call with Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean.
In the living room of Aaron Littlefield's Sugar House home, a small group of seven — most of whom are not highly politically active, and none of whom are considering running for office anytime soon — discussed what they disliked about the current state of Utah and American politics, and what they hoped would change. More important for Democrats, they also spoke about what they could do, even in small ways, to make those changes happen — especially in congressional races.
"To win the House, Democrats cannot lose any seats," Tom Malloy said. "In Utah, (Rep. Jim) Matheson needs to win his race, and that's one place where we can help."
Much of the conversation in Littlefield's home centered on national politics and frustrations with President George Bush, the War in Iraq and the ethics scandals. At the same time, the participants were motivated because of Democrats who hold seats in "red" states, such as Matheson, D-Utah, and the recent actions of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
Yet they also expressed frustrations with Democrats, especially in Utah, who do not take clear stands on their beliefs. By attending the house parties, they all hoped to recharge the Democratic party.
"I'm a reluctant Democrat," Littlefield said. "I think the party's been pretty disconnected, especially on a state level. They just don't have a very clear message."
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland spoke at a house party with about two dozen people, hosted by Rep. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake. He said Tuesday's gatherings were part of the party's grass-roots efforts. In southern Utah, he said, there were meetings with more than 100 people in attendance. Part of their success, he said, is because people are starting to tire of the majority party's "arrogance" in the way it runs the state and nation.
By setting things like education and health care as their priorities, Democrats "are in line with what people want," he said. "We just need to get out and tell the people about it."
The house party hosted by McGee, in contrast to Littlefield's, was attended mostly by politically active people, including multiple candidates for office in 2006. As words of advice, attendees suggested that if they are to be successful, it will take more than just a good advertising campaign.
"So often, we try to sell our idea," Marilyn Smith said. "We need to go to them and find out what their concerns are, what they want to change."