Howard Dean’s plan to put more money into rebuilding Democratic organizations in Republican “red” states in the South, West and Midwest is winning cheers from state party leaders who say the new funding will make them more competitive in the elections next year.
But not everyone is happy with Mr. Dean’s shoot-from-the-hip rhetoric during his whirlwind introductory tour during the past three months, particularly his remark two weeks ago in Massachusetts, where he said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay “ought to go back to Houston, where he can serve his jail sentence.”
“That was probably a little bit over-the-top,” said Nebraska Democratic Party Chairman Steven Achelpohl.
When Mr. Dean, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, announced earlier this year that he will begin pouring more of the committee’s campaign resources into Republican states to help Democrats hire more party organizers, there were doubts that it would make much of a difference.
But interviews with party chairmen whose states Mr. Dean picked for increased financial aid are singing his praises. Some even are criticizing previous party leaders for routinely writing off the red states before the election.
“The Republicans have been beating our brains out for too many years because of their greater ability in grass-roots organizing and a willingness to put more resources into that,” said Mr. Achelpohl, party chairman of one of eight red states that Mr. Dean has targeted for additional funding.
The first states Mr. Dean targeted were West Virginia, North Dakota, North Carolina and Missouri. He later added Nevada, Mississippi, Wyoming and Nebraska.
“Dean is committed to a restructuring of the Democratic Party. I don’t want to disparage [former DNC Chairman] Terry McAuliffe, but last year the DNC raised $400 million, and Nebraska’s share of that was $12,000,” Mr. Achelpohl said.
Soon after his election Feb. 12 to run the party, Mr. Dean, the former Vermont governor and failed presidential candidate, asked all of the state parties to submit plans on how they would rebuild their organizations.
“We’re very pleased with the DNC and Howard Dean’s commitment to the grass roots in West Virginia with their financial efforts,” said West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey. “They’ve committed $174,600 a year through the 2008 election.”
The money, which varies from state to state, will be used to hire state party organizers, conduct field training and build voter lists. In a recent fundraising plea for an additional $250,000 to add more states to the list, Mr. Dean said the plan is “to beef up infrastructure and … connect people with the local party.”
But among the first four states to be targeted by Mr. Dean last month, some Democratic state chairman said they haven’t hired anyone yet.
“We’re in the process of interviewing people, but haven’t hired them,” said North Dakota Democratic Party Chairman David Strauss, whose party will receive $84,000 to fill four party positions.
“We’ve hired one and have the paperwork to hire two additional people and hope they will be on the ground in a month,” said Jerry Meek, the North Carolina party chairman.