Former President Clinton warned against Democrats distancing themselves… (Joe Scarnici / Getty )
LANSDOWNE, Va. -- Former President Bill Clinton urged Congressional Democrats to pursue a positive agenda if they intend to reclaim the majority in the House and said they should not shy from gun control in the process, advising it need not be a "toxic land mine," if done correctly.
Addressing the party as Democrats closed a three-day issues conference, Clinton warned that Republicans will pose a more formidable challenge in the midterms than they did last November, and that Democrats should reach beyond their political comfort zone if they hope to add seats again in two years.
In midterm years, Clinton noted that turnout tends to be lower and the kind of diverse electorate that boosted the party in 2012 can't be counted on.
"We should not rely on demography alone," Clinton said. "We should not give up our ability … to begin a conversation with people who are not as extreme as a lot of the candidates they voted for in the Republican Party that we could get to be for us. And I see this whole gun issue as an opportunity, not a toxic land mine. But it depends on how you do it."
Clinton shared the story of a former Arkansas campaign supporter who recently told the former president about a friend who owns "dozens and dozens of guns, and wished he owned more." But he was open to reforms like universal background checks and a limit on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
"It’s important not to give up on anybody, to talk to them," Clinton said. "The worst that could happen is that people say we’re not crazy, and all these people saying you’re trying to end the right to the 2nd Amendment are wrong." And then they would be open to hearing Democrats’ ideas on other issues like education and jobs.
Clinton praised the new members of the Democratic caucus -- many of whom he noted he campaigned for -- as well as the diversity of the group. Though Democrats didn't reclaim the majority in 2012, they did add to their numbers in the House.
But as "savvy" as voters were last November, Clinton said it will be a different environment in two years.
"There were some places where we won because people saw what [Republicans] wanted to do and didn’t like it, and all of you sounded better," he said. "We now are going to have to have an affirmative agenda for jobs and innovation."
He mocked Republicans' post-election makeover as simply sounding more moderate on immigration reform and putting on "a happy face." But that might be enough to boost the party as the nation still faces "troubled waters," and Clinton said House Democrats should support the president's agenda but also develop their own ideas.
"This is a job," he said. "And keeping it requires you to do it and to sell it simultaneously," he said. "It’s normally harder in midterms because it’s more difficult to draw the contrast in a way favorable to you and because the turnout goes down. But the main thing is, let’s focus on the job."
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