Democratic congressional candidates seem to be embracing the political adage: If your opponent is self-destructing, don't get in the way.

Buoyed by polls showing that most Americans feel the nation is on the wrong track (with Republicans controlling the House, Senate and White House), Democratic campaign leaders seem largely content to let anti-GOP sentiment run its course and, ideally, carry their party back to control of the House after a decade in the minority. As for crafting their own agenda and positive message, well, there's plenty of time for that.

Briefing reporters, Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Calif.) said he and other Democratic campaign strategists feel they have an almost 50-50 chance of gaining the 11 seats they need to claim the House majority on Nov. 2. Matsui, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, cited a recent poll showing 56 percent of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track (while 41 percent answered "right track").

Pressed on whether Democrats need a sharper, clearer campaign message, Matsui said: "It would not be in anyone's interest in our party to present a message or a theme in June, July or even August. We want to wait a while."

A party aide later said House Democrats in September will roll out a message and agenda focusing on familiar themes: economic opportunity, better treatment of veterans, improved health care (especially for the elderly), environmental protection and so on. In 1994, when Republicans reclaimed the House majority after four decades in the minority, they waited until Sept. 27 to unfold their celebrated "Contract With America."

Hot Seats for Swingers

Swing states have been getting all the attention this year. But this week, they're also getting the best seats in the house. The Democratic Party has given most of the prime real estate at its presidential convention to delegates from the 16 states that are expected to be closely contested in this year's election.

The Massachusetts crowd, one of the few exceptions to the rule, gets the best seats of all -- front and center at FleetCenter, where the four-day convention is being held. But immediately to its left, right and rear is a veritable gantlet of swing states. There is the Iowa delegation, which also snagged front-row seats. Behind the Iowans are the Oregon Democrats. Just behind them, Florida. On the other side of the floor are Maine, New Mexico and, in a sign, perhaps, of the party's aspirations, the usually Republican North Carolina. Behind the Bay State crowd are New Hampshire and Florida.

A bit farther out, to the left of someone addressing the convention from the podium, are Ohio, Washington, Michigan and Tennessee. On the other side of the floor are Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and, oddly, perhaps, South Dakota. Arizona, New Jersey, Delaware and Colorado are a bit higher up in the arena, but still in the middle sections. California and New York, both reliably Democratic states, are also in the middle, getting better seats than delegates from Nevada and West Virginia (also a sign of the party's reading of the electoral scene?). Meanwhile, most of those poor Democrats from states that aren't considered competitive get the cheap seats, including those from Idaho, Nebraska and Alabama.

Pass the Remote

It's official: The Democratic National Convention is not a reality-show hit.

Just-released Nielsen numbers show that television ratings for Monday night, despite the heavily touted Bill Clinton speech, were down 10 percent from the first night of the Democratic gathering in Los Angeles four years ago.

The combined audience for CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC was 18.4 million, compared with 20.4 million four years ago.

All the broadcast networks, which have been criticized for devoting only three hours each to live convention coverage, took a hit. Ratings numbers for ABC dropped from 4.8 to 3.1, for NBC from 4.8 to 3.3, and for CBS from 3.8 to 3.2. (One ratings point is equal to 1.08 million households.)

This will give a boost to those who say the broadcast networks have made a rational decision in the face of convention ratings that have been declining for decades.

Staff writer Howard Kurtz contributed to this report.