- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

The next Democratic National Committee chairman must be a shrewd campaign strategist who can talk tough on national security and reposition the party in the political center in preparation for the 2008 presidential election, party officials and advisers say.

With their leaderless party engaged in another bitter, finger-pointing, postelection debate over its continuing political decline, some Democrats also say that the new DNC chairman cannot be allied with any prospective presidential candidate in 2008.

“We need someone who is a smart, shrewd tactician and strategist who can put the Democrats back in play,” said Gordon Fischer, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Foremost among the next chairman’s repair jobs will be to make a stronger case for fighting the war on terrorism — a strategic issue in the 2004 elections that divided the Democrats and helped President Bush win a second term.

“Quite shrewdly, Republicans positioned themselves as strong on terrorism. That’s an argument the Democrats have not made successfully enough. We need to be in the forefront of protecting the home front and going after terrorists abroad,” Mr. Fischer said.

Democrats right now “feel a bit adrift” and “that their backs are against the wall.”

“They’re looking for a chairman with strong communications skills, possibly someone who’s run for office before, who can speak to disaffected Democrats in the South and West,” he said.

Michael O’Hanlon, a Democratic foreign-policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said that “the Democrats are going to need a long time to recover” from their elections losses, but when they do, their first task must be “to present a more positive, centrist alternative” to Mr. Bush and the Republicans on national-security issues.

But the task of picking a new party leader remains far from being settled, and DNC members who will choose a chairman Feb. 12 are taking a “wait-and-see approach” and may be waiting for new candidates to enter the race, some party leaders say.

“The vast majority [of DNC members] have not committed to anybody,” said Bob Mullholland, a spokesman for the California Democratic Party. “But after the holidays, when the Christmas balls come down, many of the candidates will come down, and the grass roots will rally behind somebody.”

“I don’t think it has shaken out yet,” said former DNC chairman Steven Grossman who is pushing former presidential candidate Howard Dean for the job. “A month from today, you’ll have half the people running. People will build alliances. There will be coalitions.”

Behind the scenes, though, Democratic power brokers were said to be wielding their influence on behalf of candidates. Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who frequently is mentioned as a future presidential candidate, were said to be quietly backing Harold Ickes, who was Mr. Clinton’s White House deputy chief of staff and is one of Mrs. Clinton’s political advisers.

Some in the anti-war grass-roots activist group MoveOn.org were said to be marshaling their forces behind Mr. Dean, who has been the party’s leading critic of the Iraq war.

“Various potential candidates are quietly stating their preferences,” Mr. Grossman said, but he added that it was important that the party “elect someone who will not run in ‘08 or will not be a stalking horse for someone who will be a candidate in ‘08.”

Still, he acknowledged that Mrs. Clinton, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and his running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, should they choose to seek the presidency, “have a strong stake in this.”

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