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CBC seeks to weather storm despite party’s gloomy political forecast-

By Melanie Eversley

As Republicans vow almost daily to snatch back the Capitol Hill majority enjoyed by Democrats, members of the all-Democrat Congressional Black Caucus are striking a defiant tone this week as they gather for their Annual Legislative Conference in Washington.

Leaders in the 42-member coalition of African-American lawmakers say their focus is not on the recent primary victories by Republican candidates supported by the conservative, libertarian Tea Party movement, but on holding onto their seats in the general election in November. They said they weren’t focused on the possibility of Democrats having the rug pulled out from under them.

“We’re working not only to maintain the majority, but grow the majority,” says caucus chairwoman Barbara Lee, a Democratic congresswoman from Oakland, Calif.

Regarding a possible loss of majority, caucus whip Yvette Clarke, a Democrat from Brooklyn, N.Y., said: “We’ve really been focused on strengthening the Democratic Caucus, being as much support to our colleagues that are in those marginal districts, to really push back, fight and hold the House.”

“The interesting thing about this caucus is that it’s (45-years-old) and it has stood through good days and bad days,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said Wednesday, the morning after the Tea Party-backed Christine O’Donnell upset GOP Rep. Mike Castle in a primary bid for a Senate seat representing Delaware. “I’m claiming victory in November,” she said.

Caucus member and House majority whip James Clyburn of South Carolina said the only trend evident from Tuesday’s election, which also saw a Tea-Party backed candidate beat an established Republican in the New York governor’s race, was that the GOP is fractured. “We see they’ve got as many vulnerabilities as we’ve got,” he said.

The African-American lawmakers made the comments during the annual gathering organized by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation that has become a September institution. The meeting that typically attracts about 15,000 attendees from across the country is a chance for U.S. House and Senate members to network with Cabinet members, lobbyists, association representatives, constituents, activists and business people, all who share ideas with one another on the needs and future direction of African Americans. It also is one of Washington’s social highlights. This year’s focus is getting people back to work and preparing African Americans for new technology and green jobs.

But unlike the high spirits evident at last year’s meeting, the first after the election of the first African-American president, this year’s gathering has been injected with a dose of reality. Two longtime caucus members, Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California, face ethics trials, and behavior by others has raised questions. Also, some polls also show Americans are becoming dissatisfied with Democrats in Washington. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released in early September placed the president’s approval rating at 45 percent.

At least one longtime attendee of the CBC meetings said this state of affairs should have led caucus members to use the annual meeting to create a winning strategy.