Washington (CNN) -- If anyone doubted whether campaigning had started for the mid-term congressional elections in November, the answer became clear on Sunday.
Democratic and Republican politicians rolled out their main campaign themes on morning talk shows less than four months before voters will decide races for all 435 House seats and at least 36 of the 100 Senate posts.
West Virginia could decide to hold a special election in November to fill the seat of the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, which would put 37 Senate seats in play.
To Republicans, the election is about halting the free-spending policies of a Democratic-controlled White House and Congress. For Democrats, the choice for voters is between moving forward to tackle tough issues or going back to failed GOP policies of the past.
While Democrats repeatedly invoke the crippling recession and increased deficits of the Bush administration, Republicans say the problem now is how the majority party forces through unpopular and irresponsibly expensive legislation.
"How long can the other side run against the previous administration?" asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, on the CNN program "State of the Union." "They've been in charge now for a year and a half. They've been on a gargantuan spending spree."
On the same show, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, shot back that the nation needs to progress rather than boomerang.
"What we're going to focus on is not returning to the failed Bush policies that brought us to this point, but focus on the efforts that we have made which are making progress," Hoyer said. "We haven't succeeded yet, but we are making substantial progress. The economy is growing. We are creating jobs."
Democrats conceded that the slow economic recovery, with unemployment still above 9 percent, continues to rankle voters upset with the entire Washington establishment. However, both Hoyer and Vice President Joe Biden took aim at GOP calls to repeal major reform bills of the past year -- the health insurance overhaul and increased Wall Street regulations -- and replace them with less comprehensive proposals.
"Very frankly, we think that when Americans assess, 'Do we want to go back; do we want to, in fact, repeal the successes we've had and repeat the mistakes that we've made that got us to this point,' I think they're going to say, no, they don't want to go back to the Bush policies," Hoyer said.
Appearing on the ABC program "This Week," Biden complained of Republican efforts to obstruct any progress under President Barack Obama.
"There is the reality of whether or not the Republicans are willing to play, whether or not the Republicans are just about repeal and repeat the old policies or they're really wanting to do something," Biden said.
McConnell and other Republicans made no apologies.
"What we are proud to say 'no' to, and I think what the public wants us to say 'no' to, are things like the government running banks, insurance companies, car companies, nationalizing the student loan business, taking over our health care," he said.
His GOP ally in the House, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, told "Fox News Sunday" that people don't want all the costly reform legislation pushed by Democrats.
"All we're getting from the Democratic majority in Congress and from this White House is more bailouts, more spending, more planned stimulus, more deficits and debt, and the American people have had it," Pence said.
On the NBC program "Meet the Press," Republican Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas blamed the nation's economic woes dating to the previous administration on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who became the nation's first woman House Speaker in 2006.
"It is because Speaker Pelosi has been in charge for four years and denied (former President George W. Bush) the ability to continue doing what was successful in this country, and that is making the free enterprise system not only more powerful but competitive with the world," Sessions said, later adding: "Today it's about empowering government, and that is a mistake."
Democrats, however, said Republicans are simply opposing whatever Obama and their party's congressional leaders propose without offering any substantive alternatives. With primaries for November determining specific candidates, they say, the stark differences offered voters will become more apparent.
"The most vulnerable time any public official finds himself is in when they have no opponent," Biden said, noting how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, was thought to be in trouble until the Republican primary chose extreme conservative Sharron Angle to face him. Reid now holds a lead in the latest polling.
"I know my Republican colleagues would like to have everybody forget that their candidates are on the ballot, but their candidates will be on the ballot," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, said on the NBC program. "And it's not just talking about President Bush; it's the policies that they espouse that are in essence Bush's policies.
On the same show, Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said Republicans "want to get away, essentially, with carping and whining about everything here without telling the American people what they will do."
He singled out the House Republican leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, as an example of what the opposition seeks to do.
Boehner "just this week said that he's going to move to repeal the Wall Street reform bill," Van Hollen said. "Now, Wall Street lobbyists have been working very hard to try and defeat that Wall Street reform bill. "And what he is saying is, 'Just wait. If I have the opportunity, I'm going to take care of it for you.' So it's that kind of thing that's going to make it clear to the American people what kind of choice they have."
However, GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, also on the NBC program, said the public wants "checks and balances" in Washington.
"They've had single-party government, and it's scaring the living daylights out of them," Cornyn said, citing the health care reform bill as example. Asked what would happen with Republicans back in power, Cornyn said: "I think repeal and replace it with a common-sense solution."