Former presidential candidate Howard Dean, who opposed the Iraq war and sought to repeal all of the Bush tax cuts, will become chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday over the objections of party centrists.
Critics say Mr. Dean is too liberal to appeal to a broader electorate.
The former Vermont governor became the champion of the Democrats' anti-war wing in the party's 2004 presidential nomination battle, but did not win a single primary outside of his home state. He overcame a large field of rivals in the DNC leadership race by using the same grass-roots and Internet organizing skills that he says he wants to put to work on behalf of a party still reeling from last year's disastrous defeat.
Mr. Dean's election to the party chairmanship will be all but unanimous when the 447 DNC members meet here this weekend. But it is a troubling development for some party activists, who fear that his far-left positions on national security, trade, taxes and other issues -- and his shoot-from-the-hip style -- will push the Democrats further outside the nation's political mainstream.
Former Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, a defense hawk who opposes abortion, was one of the last remaining candidates before he dropped out of the chairmanship race Monday, but not before taking a few parting shots at the anti-war stance he said had weakened the party at a time of heightened concern about terrorism and national security.
"If there's one reason Senator [John] Kerry lost the presidential race, it was because he failed to make the American people feel safer," Mr. Roemer said.
A member of the government commission that investigated the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mr. Roemer said the party had to strengthen its positions on national security and on values issues.
During his primary campaign, Mr. Dean called the U.S. military action in Iraq "the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time," a phrase that Mr. Kerry later used in his own presidential campaign.
Critics say Mr. Dean hurt both his candidacy and party with some of his statements during the Democratic primary campaign. Mr. Dean said terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden should not be judged until he has had a jury trial, expressed doubt about whether Iraqis were better off with Saddam Hussein out of power, called Hamas terrorists "soldiers," and angered Jewish Democrats when he said that the United States should be "evenhanded" in its Middle East policy rather than always favoring Israel.
Democratic leaders in Congress and among the governors, who were wary of a party chairmanship for Mr. Dean, said they hoped that another less liberal Democrat would emerge in the race. But an effort led by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who heads the Democratic Governors' Association, to get former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard to seek the top DNC post fell flat. The party's House and Senate leaders, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, encouraged Mr. Roemer to enter, only to see his pro-life stance trigger a storm of opposition from pro-choice feminist groups.
For the most part, though, party leaders stayed out of the DNC contest once it got going, and that played to Mr. Dean's strengths as an organizer.
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