- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2005

Howard Dean was elected Democratic National Committee chairman by acclamation yesterday after promising to end his party’s decade-long decline by sharpening its message, broadening its base and strengthening its operations at the grass roots.

“Today will be the beginning of the re-emergence of the Democratic Party. The first thing we have to do is stand up for what we believe in,” the fiery former Vermont governor told hundreds of cheering DNC members who gathered at the Washington Hilton to choose their new party leaders.

Using the organizational and personal networking skills that made him the front-runner for the 2004 presidential nomination before his candidacy imploded in the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Dean drove nearly a dozen rivals from the chairman’s race and calmed party doubts about his temperament and anti-war, liberal image to win the top DNC leadership post.

To alleviate concerns, he promised the DNC’s 447 members, who serve as the party’s board of directors, that he would not run for president again in 2008 and gave House and Senate Democratic leaders an ironclad pledge that he would leave the party’s policy-making to them.

“We will not set the agenda. That will be set by Democratic congressional leaders,” he said.

The Hilton ballroom exploded with cheers and a thunderous standing ovation when outgoing DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe slammed down the gavel and declared Mr. Dean the new national chairman. Many viewed Mr. Dean’s victory as a remarkable political comeback for the man who had attacked the party’s leaders for backing President Bush in the Iraq war and whose political career seemed all but over after his collapse in the presidential primaries.

“If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be standing here doing this … I would not have believed you, and neither would a lot of other people,” Mr. Dean said.

Mr. Dean said at a press conference after his acceptance speech that he would be embarking on a nationwide party-rebuilding crusade to reach out to pivotal parts of the electorate that the Democrats have been losing, including Catholics and evangelicals, whose support has been a key factor in the Republicans’ victories, particularly in rural America.

“We are definitely going to do religious outreach. We’re definitely going to reach out to the evangelical community,” he said.

Acknowledging the Catholic Church’s active role in speaking out against John Kerry’s pro-choice stance, Mr. Dean said, “We have to remind Catholic Americans that the social mission of the Democratic Party is almost exactly the same as the social mission of the Catholic Church.”

A major complaint at closed-door DNC caucus meetings was that the party once again didn’t focus on Southern and Mountain West states last year, where Republicans have had an electoral lock for most of the past two decades.

“We cannot abdicate the South and the West if we are to be a national party,” former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb told the DNC yesterday, triggering sustained applause.

Mr. Dean said that both regions would be among his highest priorities.

“I intend to be living in the [Bush] red states. That’s where we need to do a lot of work. In this job, I am going to be living in motels around the country,” he told reporters.

Notably, the former presidential candidate who became the leader of the party’s dominant anti-war wing, never mentioned Iraq in his remarks to the DNC, even though it was the issue that fueled his campaign and raised questions about the Democrats’ weakness on national security and the war on terrorism.

“I’m not going to get into policy issues. I think my views on Iraq are well-known, but I think the day-to-day battles over what goes on in Iraq, the proper place for that is the Congress and the Democratic leadership of Congress, and I don’t see any need for me to make pronouncements on an issue I won’t be voting on,” he said.

In his address to the DNC, Mr. Dean laid out in more detail how he plans to rebuild the party by focusing first and foremost on shifting more of the DNC’s financial resources to the states.

“If we want to win nationally, we have to start winning locally,” he said.

“The party’s strength does not come from the consultants in Washington. It comes from the grass roots,” he said.

The second change he will make is to begin framing Democratic issues differently.

“We can’t move forward by just being against the administration,” he said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Dean provided the DNC’s activists with plenty of anti-Bush red meat, signaling that the party was ready to rumble with the Republicans.

He attacked Mr. Bush’s budget-cutting proposals for “bringing Enron-style accounting to the nation’s capital,” saying it shows that “you cannot trust Republicans with your money,” and he called the president’s Social Security reforms “a dishonest scheme” that would leave “a legacy of debt that our children do not deserve.”

But Mr. Dean’s attacks on Mr. Bush drew a warm congratulatory welcome yesterday from his counterpart, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.

“I congratulate Howard Dean on his election as DNC chairman and look forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue with him about the major issues facing our nation. Howard Dean’s energy and passion will add to the political discourse in this country, and he will be a strong leader for his party,” Mr. Mehlman said.


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