- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

Democrats gathered today to preview their expanding field of presidential candidates and plot campaign strategy at a time when Democrats are feuding over ideology, war in Iraq and the Rev. Al Sharpton's effect on the 2004 elections.
The Democratic National Committee begins a three-day meeting here at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill, with Democrats beset by internal turmoil over the party's direction.
Veteran Democrats such as campaign strategist Donna Brazile now say that Republicans are making inroads in their political base among blacks and Hispanics. Liberals and centrist factions are battling with one another over how to run next year's campaign against President Bush and the Republicans.
And there are fears that Republicans will greatly outdistance the Democrats in fund raising for next year's elections because of campaign-finance reform, which banned the large "soft-money" contributions that have kept the DNC competitive with the GOP.
"We're facing one of the toughest periods in our party's life," Miss Brazile said yesterday.
DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe plans to brief state chairmen and other committee members on a newly designed plan to further expand the party's direct donor base, which he has tripled to 1.2 million contributors, and an e-mail list of party activists that will soon grow to more than 1 million names.
"This briefing is designed to demonstrate how the DNC will have both the means and the tools necessary to win back the White House in 2004," the DNC said yesterday.
But many Democrats fear that their most liberal presidential candidates will undermine the party's attempt to win back the House and Senate in 2004. Interviews with Democratic state chairmen in the South and Southwest in recent weeks elicited numerous complaints and veiled warnings that some of the party's contenders for the nomination were far too liberal for their states or region. Many noted that Al Gore did not carry a single state in the South in 2000.
At the same time, the centrist Democratic Leadership Council is warning Democrats that the party is moving dangerously to the left and must redefine itself by staking out stronger positions on national security, Iraq and the war on terrorism, and by identifying itself with family values.
"The pounding Democrats took in the 2002 elections made painfully clear that no Democratic nominee can beat Bush without first changing the face of the Democratic Party," the DLC said in a memo last week to Democratic activists.
Perhaps the deepest split among Democrats right now is over Mr. Bush's plan to invade Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and disarm his regime. Anti-war activists form a significant part of the Democrats' base and the party's most liberal presidential candidates oppose war against Iraq, including Mr. Sharpton, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio.
But the rest of the presidential pack is supporting the use of force to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, including Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina.
"The party is as divided over Iraq as our candidates are," said a Democratic Party strategist.
More recently, there appears to be growing resentment in the party toward Mr. Sharpton's presidential candidacy.
Two Democratic magazines, the New Republic and the American Prospect, published broadsides against the New York civil rights activist last week, saying that his candidacy could be "a nightmare" for the party if he is able to pick up a sizable bloc of delegates.

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