- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

The Democratic National Committee is no closer to choosing a new chairman than it was last month because its rank-and-file members are waiting to see who their party’s power structure will support, several Democratic strategists said yesterday.

“Very few people have made commitments yet. A lot of them are looking to see where some of the party leadership is going to go, where organized labor is going to go. A number of people on the committee want to wait and see where the others are going,” said former Clinton White House adviser Harold Ickes, one of two candidates to drop out of the race this week.

Democrats said despite the withdrawal of Mr. Ickes and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, there is no coalescing around the remaining aspirants, leaving the party’s national apparatus leaderless as President Bush begins pushing his 2005 agenda.

Steve Grossman, the former DNC chairman under President Clinton, partly agreed that party members are waiting to see who its leaders rally around, “but I wouldn’t want to overstate the impact that party insiders are going to have on the ultimate result.”

The only discernible development in the race to succeed DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe appeared to be a party division between centrists like former Indiana Rep. Timothy J. Roemer, who served on the September 11 commission on the terrorist attacks and more liberal contenders, like former Rep. Martin Frost of Texas.

The DNC is heavily dominated by liberals, and many do not like Mr. Roemer’s more centrist-leaning stance on some issues like abortion. He has voted to ban partial-birth abortions, and on a recent appearance on CNN said the party’s opposition to banning such late-term abortions was “a moral blind spot.”

Encouraged by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and incoming Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid to enter the race, Mr. Roemer has been calling DNC members around the country, but has not formally declared his candidacy.

Mr. Ickes, who is a close adviser to former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, warned yesterday that Mr. Roemer “may run into a stiff breeze” from the party’s dominant liberal wing.

The remaining active contenders include Simon Rosenberg, the founder of the New Democrat Network; party strategist Donnie Fowler, son of former DNC Chairman Donald Fowler of South Carolina; and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

Former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, who has been exploring his chances for the party post, has not formally declared his candidacy. Mr. Grossman said Mr. Dean is a candidate.

“The race for DNC chair is still wide open,” said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, a veteran DNC adviser. But that could begin to change, she said, after “the first round of regional meetings to take place this weekend in Atlanta.”

The public image of the DNC being unable to quickly rally around a major national leader who can take over the reins of the party after its devastating losses in the 2004 election has left many Democrats feeling “somewhat adrift” and despondent, Democrats said.

“After [Democratic defeats in] 2000, 2002 and 2004, this is a very frustrated group of men and women, more than 400 of them,” Mr. Grossman said of the DNC.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson attempted to rally Democratic governors here last month in a bid to lead the party out of its depression, but Democrats questioned whether the governors would have much impact on the DNC race.

“I would not count on the governors running things. The DNC is pretty much a beast unto itself. The governors do not run it. The leadership on the Hill does not run it,” Mr. Ickes said.

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