Washington (CNN) – Senior White House adviser David Axelrod told Democratic senators behind closed doors on Thursday that if they want to win re-election they need to go on offense and stress to voters that it's Republicans who are to blame for the economic mess the country is in today.
"We're not interested in re-litigating the past but we don't want to relive it either," Axelrod said after the closed-door strategy session with Senate Democrats in the Capitol. "People need to know that when they cast that Republican vote they're casting that vote for those same discredited policies that punished the middle class and created this crisis in the first place."
A senior administration official added to CNN that President Obama will be "ramping up" his personal campaign schedule in a major way in September in order to make that very case, that his administration is moving the country forward after passage of key parts of his agenda - including the stimulus package, health care reform, and Wall Street reform.
But retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) said some of his colleagues told Axelrod at the private meeting that it's a "tough environment" in which many voters have such negative feelings about the direction of the country that it's hard to break though and get credit for some of the President's accomplishments.
"The feeling was expressed that people aren't listening to any of this," said Bayh. "Any positive message we have people aren't prepared to listen to it. They don't believe any of it. So in an environment like that the best thing to do is go on the offense against the other side."
Axelrod acknowledged the slow pace of the economic recovery "creates a difficult political environment" for Democrats running to maintain their majorities in Congress, but he counseled that over time the party will get credit for making tough decisions.
"Though we weren't responsible for digging the hole, we're responsible for solving the problems and it's going to take a longer time than people would like," Axelrod said after the private session, which also included Democratic strategists Paul Begala and Stephanie Cutter.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) noted that voters in his state have three former Republican lawmakers running for office this fall: Former Rep. Rob Portman for Senate, former Rep. John Kasich for governor, and former Sen. Mike DeWine for attorney general.
Brown said the former lawmakers "are asking voters for the car keys…after running the economy into the ditch. I think the election is that contrast. Do you want to go back to that or do you want to go forward?"
Brown argued that comparisons to the 1994 wave that swept the GOP into power in the House don't hold up this election season because Republicans are much less popular today then they were then.
"Democrats are a lot more optimistic than the pundits and what the Republicans are crowing about," Brown said.