Piece by piece, confident House Republicans are cobbling together a policy approach and branding effort designed to help them win back the House in November.
Energized by the anti-incumbent anger that has stirred the tea party movement, GOP leaders hope they can lock in those voters with an agenda and message of small government, homeland security and fiscal responsibility.
Last week, GOP leaders named second-term Rep. Peter Roskam -- who holds one of the party's two remaining seats in the once-solidly-Republican Chicago suburbs -- to serve as a public face for the election platform-drafting effort that the minority party hopes will be as successful as Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract with America.
And House Republican Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio added to his lineup of policy working groups by creating an eighth, on national security. Its chairman is Peter T. King, the only surviving Republican House member left from New York City's suburbs and one of only two in that state's 29-member delegation.
King's new task force joins working groups on economic recovery, energy, health care, rural issues, government transparency, solutions to issues facing state governments and restoring Americans' personal savings. Boehner chairs the savings group himself.
A few weeks ago, Boehner tapped Greg Walden, the only Republican House member from Oregon, to be chairman of the House GOP leadership.
Boehner is also giving the spotlight to Republicans from heavily Democratic states, where the party will need to make gains this fall if it is to pick up the roughly 40 seats it will need to take control of the House. And he is steering toward a platform that grasps grass-roots Republican thinking.
The strategy reflects a feeling among Republicans that there is a growing opportunity for them to ride an anti-Democratic wave in this fall's elections and get back in the majority come January for the first time since 2006.
The mood in the House Republican Conference is "buoyant," said Roskam, who will be vice chairman of the platform effort headed by Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy of California.
"I'd say the mood is very positive but determined," said Kevin Brady, R-Texas. The rank-and-file member sounded the theme the GOP hopes to ride to victory: "We're so positive because we know this Congress is out of step with the rest of America."
Democrats have a sharply contrasting view. They concede that they will lose seats, just as the party of the president almost always does in midterm elections.
They know that if unemployment stays at 9.7 percent, they will pay a heavy price, but they say the economy is improving and they are counting on a decline in joblessness.
Democrats also expect the new health care law to become a plus as voters learn more about it. And the well-funded Democratic candidates and campaign organizations plan to paint Republicans as beholden to Wall Street, big oil companies and other unpopular interests.
They, too, are devising a new messaging effort, one designed to bring a populist brand to their legislative agenda -- pushing an immigration measure by promoting it as a way to bring new taxpayers into the system, and framing their energy plan as an investment that will create "green jobs."
Revisiting Town Halls
The Republican plan, which staffers call the "still-unnamed effort," will be finished over the next few weeks by Roskam and McCarthy. "I've been through competitive cycles," said Roskam, who was an Illinois state Senate colleague of President Obama. "I understand what voters really are concerned about."
Town-hall-style meetings around the country are planned to hear voters' ideas, and a website and online social networking will be used to provoke discussion. People may be asked to vote on which ideas should be in the platform.
The Republicans have not decided whether their fall platform will be mainly thematic or, like Gingrich's "contract," will list specific proposals that a new GOP majority would promise to support.
King, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said that, like the other Boehner-created working groups, his panel of House members would help draft legislative proposals for the rest of this session and for the McCarthy-Roskam effort.
National security is not at the top of voters' concerns, King acknowledged, but creation of his group is a recognition that such issues can erupt at any time, as they did last Christmas when a man with explosives was overpowered aboard an airliner en route to Detroit. Security issues have particular resonance in the New York City area scarred by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's an issue that's just below the surface until it surfaces," King said. "In the fall election, it will be an issue in New York among Reagan Democrats and independents who are more conservative."
King said those voters are likely to believe that Obama and the Democrats are soft on terrorism and are not sufficiently loyal to U.S. allies, including Israel. Obama has quarreled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his country's settlements on land in dispute with the Palestinian Authority, an argument that has fueled unease among some American Jews and other staunch supporters of Israel.
The GOP recently set up the House Republican Israel Caucus, with co-chairmen who include Roskam and Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, the only Jewish Republican in Congress.
King said Republicans have to offer voters a sharp contrast with Obama and congressional Democrats on security issues. "It's important we have a firm position," he said.
The November elections are still a long way away, and Republicans need to keep their underdog demeanor, Roskam said.
"Overconfidence is always a danger," he said. "History is filled with examples of overpromising and underdelivering. That's what the Democrats are going through now. We Republicans would be wise to listen to what the public is saying."