- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Jockeying for the top job at the Democratic Party is under way after Election Day losses, with former presidential hopeful Howard Dean expressing interest in the post while other names begin to circulate.

Both parties are expected to pick new national committee chiefs early next year, with the Democrats replacing Terry McAuliffe and the Republicans finding a successor to Ed Gillespie.

For the GOP, the choice is easy: whomever President Bush recommends. Republican activists said a likely candidate is Ken Mehlman, the former White House political director who served as campaign manager for the Bush-Cheney team.

Democrats face a much tougher challenge. The next leader of the Democratic National Committee will be responsible for rebuilding a party battered by two straight presidential-election losses, finding a way to stanch the flow of voters away from its ranks and picking up seats in congressional elections in 2006.

Democrats agree the party needs an aggressive activist to replace Mr. McAuliffe, whose term is ending. But finding the party’s next leader could trigger another internal battle about the future direction of the party.

“The most important thing we can do is get our message right,” said Al From, head of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

Mr. Dean, the former Vermont governor who waged an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination, told associates earlier this week he is considering running for the job.

Mr. Dean’s activism would help energize the party’s liberal base, but some Democrats question whether he is the right person to broaden the party’s appeal to mainstream voters.

Also mentioned for the DNC post are Govs. Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Mark Warner of Virginia, and former Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia.

Harold Ickes, a New York lawyer who was a White House aide in the Clinton administration and has close ties to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, has a large following, especially in the Clinton wing of the party. Mr. Ickes is a passionate advocate and successful fund-raiser, but his Clinton ties might work against him among Democrats backing other candidates.

Other names being circulated include Inez Tenenbaum, South Carolina’s education superintendent and unsuccessful Senate candidate, and Simon Rosenberg, founder and president of the centrist New Democrat Network.

Some Democratic activists would like a black party chief, such as Donna Brazile, who ran Al Gore’s campaign in 2000; former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk; former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer; or former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

It’s a job that nobody at this point wants to say they are seeking.

Mr. Dean said he hadn’t made up his mind, and Miss Brazile said yesterday : “I haven’t tossed my hat in the ring for that job. It should be somebody from outside Washington. I’m not ready to take on that task, but I want to help whoever will.”

Among Hispanics, Antonio Villaraigosa, former speaker of the California Assembly and now a Los Angeles City Council member, is getting some attention.

Although the job won’t be filled until early February, campaigning is expected to begin in earnest when several preliminary meetings are held in December.

Among Republicans, Mr. Gillespie is widely admired and has Mr. Bush’s support, but he has indicated he does not intend to serve another term.

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