- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

It is safe to say that the Democratic National Committee did not elect Howard Dean as party chairman because he was so good at attracting votes or because the party wanted to solidify its hold on Mr. Dean’s home state of Vermont.

Having served since 1991 as Vermont’s governor, Mr. Dean won re-election in 2000 with all of 50 percent of the vote. Even within his own party during the 2004 presidential primaries and caucuses, Mr. Dean proved to be a huge disappointment. In Iowa, he finished a distant third with 18 percent of the vote. A week later, Democrats in neighboring New Hampshire turned thumbs down, awarding him barely 25 percent of the vote. His campaign went downhill from there, big time, before he belatedly withdrew from the race on Feb. 18 after garnering only 18 percent of the Wisconsin primary vote. Vermont’s three electoral votes seem to be securely ensconced in the Democratic column, having gone to the Democratic presidential candidate during each of the last four elections by an average victory margin of more than 17 points.

So, no: the Democratic Party — licking its wounds after losing a second straight presidential election and failing to achieve control of either the Senate or the House for the sixth consecutive biennial congressional election — did not embrace Mr. Dean as chairman this year because of his voter appeal or Vermont’s strategic role in American politics. Mr. Dean became party chairman because he convinced the DNC that he would fill the party’s campaign coffers with small-dollar contributions raised on the Internet the same way he raised more than $50 million in his presidential campaign. So far it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

When Mr. Dean was confronted with the facts, he did what he does best: He dissembled. Told by Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” that fund-raising by the Republican National Committee during the first quarter ($34.2 million) was double the DNC’s total ($16.7 million), Mr. Dean replied: “Republicans have always been better at raising money than we have. But don’t forget, I’ve only been in office for 100 days.” In fact, according to the Federal Election Commission, the Democrats raised more funds than the Republicans during the 2003-04 election cycle.

The April fund-raising totals reinforced the first-quarter trend as the GOP once again crushed the Democrats in Mr. Dean’s favorite category: donations below $200. For the first four months of 2005, the RNC has raised $42.3 million in contributions from individuals, 70 percent ($29.3 million) of which arrived in increments below $200. The DNC has raised only $17 million from individuals over the same period. From donors contributing less than $200, the Republican total is 2.25 times the Democrats’.

Mr. Dean’s presidential campaign astonished everyone when it raised $37 million in individual contributions over a seven-month period ending in January 2004. No Democrat — not Bill Clinton, not Al Gore — had remotely approached Mr. Dean’s fund-raising prowess over a comparable period. But once Mr. Dean showed the way, Democratic nominee John Kerry went on a fund-raising offensive that dwarfed Mr. Dean’s record. During the first five months after Mr. Dean withdrew, Mr. Kerry raised $180 million from individuals, an average of $36 million per month — more than five times the Dean average.

While contributions from individuals to candidates were limited to $2,000 for the presidential primaries, individuals may contribute $53,400 to a national party committee during the 2005-06 cycle. That makes Mr. Dean’s performance all the more disappointing.

There’s something else that should concern Democrats: On the national stage, Mr. Dean has a propensity to spend money faster than it arrives, even when it shows up in record amounts. As his failed presidential bid revealed, he gets very little bang for the buck. Having raised more than $47 million through January 2004, Mr. Dean had less than $5 million in cash on hand after his dismal showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. And more than half of that had to be set aside to repay $2.8 million in debts.

On the other hand, the endgame strategies pursued by the national committee and John Kerry in 2004 surprised everyone. A reversal of a mere 60,000 votes in Ohio (1 percent of the state’s total) would have delivered the presidency to Mr. Kerry. Yet the candidate and the party finished the race with $14 million and $10 million, respectively, in the bank. For all Howard Dean’s failings, he isn’t that foolish.

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