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Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer at the State of the Union. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Democrats have more midterm anxiety than you might think, given most pundits are confidently predicting Republicans will lose the House.

Two sources with direct knowledge tell me that at the recent Democratic Senate retreat at Mount Vernon, they invited a focus group of voters to discuss the issues they care about and the political landscape.

What the voters kept saying: "Republicans have the wrong agenda; Democrats have no agenda."

A Senate aide told me leadership is acutely aware of this problem, and hopes immigration will fill their agenda gap. Another top Senate aide, however, told me their messaging will highlight a broader set of issues, including pensions, opioid funding, child care, and student loans. They will boast that they moved the ball forward on these issues with the budget deal.

Their toughest challenge: keeping this message from being totally drowned out by coverage of the President’s alleged affairs, the Russia probe, the Robert Porter domestic violence cover-up, and other wild stories. Democrats are aware that cable news producers would much rather air segments on Stormy Daniels than pension reform.

By the way: Hillary Clinton had this problem too. Her campaign staff always bemoaned the fact that the national media showed infinitely more interest in Trump’s JFK conspiracy theories than her white papers on Alzheimer’s.

On top of that: Several top Hill Democrats told me they worry too many of their colleagues think they can flip the House just by bashing Trump and talking about Russia. If the focus groups at the retreat showed them anything, it’s that that won’t be enough.

Go deeper

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
1 hour ago - Health

Gottlieb: CDC hampered U.S. response to COVID

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The CDC moved too slowly at several points in the coronavirus pandemic, ultimately hindering the U.S. response, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb writes in a new book, Uncontrolled Spread.

The big picture: The book argues that American intelligence agencies should have a much bigger role in pandemic preparedness, even if that's sometimes at the expense of public health agencies like the CDC.

911's digital makeover

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A next-generation 911 would allow the nation's 6,000 911 centers to accept texts, videos and photos.

The big picture: U.S. emergency communications have remained stubbornly analog, but Congress is about to take another run at dragging 911 into the digital age.

Biden enlists business leaders in campaign for vax mandates

President Joe Biden at a meeting with business leaders Sept. 15, 2021. Photo: Oliver Contretas/Getty Images

President Biden convened a meeting of top business leaders Wednesday to build support for a sweeping vaccine mandate that will affect most of America's workers. The message: Vaccines work, and the stalled uptake is holding back the economy.

Why it matters: As vaccine rates have flattened across the country, business leaders have the power to impact their employees’ decisions. Many corporate leaders had been looking for stronger federal guidance to lean on.

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