— House Democrats, hoping to regain the majority in their chamber, are meeting on Maryland's Eastern Shore this week to hash out an agenda for an unpredictable election year that will hinge largely on President Barack Obama.
The three-day meeting, which follows a similar retreat by House Republicans in Baltimore last week, is taking place mostly behind closed doors at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will offer separate pep talks to the caucus on Friday.
Democrats are in a better position politically than when they gathered in Cambridge last year, fresh off a midterm election in which they had lost control of the House to the GOP. National opinion polls give a slight edge to Democrats this year, though they indicate a deep dissatisfaction with Congress overall.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland said Obama will likely hit many of the same themes in Cambridge as during Tuesday's State of the Union address.
"America has the resources to solve the challenges and meet the challenges that confront it," Hoyer said. "What America needs is the political courage and will to do so."
The president's visit to the Eastern Shore will come on the heels of a five-state swing in which he is rolling out more detail on the proposals he unveiled in his speech Tuesday. Obama's address in Cambridge will not be open to the public, and the White House has not provided any details on its focus.
Lawmakers will hold several discussions Thursday, including a panel on domestic manufacturing led by Hoyer and Commerce Secretary John Bryson, as well as a meeting about "reining in special-interest influence," according to a conference agenda.
But the annual caucuses are also an opportunity to craft a message that members can take to voters. Democratic leaders have pointed to divisions within the GOP caucus between conservatives and centrists and have said they are more confident they can pick up seats in November.
One of those opportunities could be in Maryland, where a redrawn 6th District in Western Maryland has put Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett on the defensive as he runs for an 11th term. Both parties face April 3 primaries in that race.
Democrats would have to capture 25 more seats to win back control of the House.
In an odd twist of political geography, House Democrats hold their annual meeting in a congressional district held by a Republican — Rep. Andy Harris — while GOP members held a similar retreat in heavily Democratic Baltimore last week.
A spokesman for the Democrats said Cambridge was selected for its proximity to Washington and its ability to accommodate the group.
Cambridge Mayor Victoria L. Jackson-Stanley said she believes Democratic lawmakers are returning because of the hospitality the city showed last year, and she welcomed the conference's economic impact. But she warned visitors to expect traffic, particularly on U.S. 50 heading into town.
"Security is very high," she said. "Be patient."