The Democrats held a fundraising reception last night featuring Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, whose “red meat” political invective has triggered complaints from state party leaders for being “spiteful” and over the top.
The event, billed as a “Paint the Nation Blue” grass-roots fundraiser, is part of Mr. Dean’s efforts to raise significant amounts of campaign money to hire dozens of additional party organizers in key red states that the Republicans have routinely carried in presidential elections.
But both Mr. Dean’s ambitious organizing drive and Democrats’ criticism of President Bush’s agenda and his handling of postwar Iraq have been overshadowed by the DNC chairman’s attacks on Republicans and a Senate speech last week by Mr. Durbin, who compared the treatment of al Qaeda prisoners at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi concentration camps and Josef Stalin’s Soviet gulags.
Under fire over the past week from Republicans and some Democrats, as well as major veterans groups and Jewish leaders, Mr. Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democratic leader, apologized yesterday in the Senate, saying that “Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies.”
His statement came after days of surprisingly intense criticism from Democratic state chairmen who said his analogy to Nazis and Soviets was “absurd” and “inflammatory.”
Last night, Mr. Durbin struck a patriotic stance in his speech.
“We have 150,000 of the bravest Americans who are literally risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Democrats stand proudly to support them,” Mr. Durbin told the audience at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, which cheered his remarks.
Mr. Dean has not apologized for his remarks, which include charges that most Republicans “are white Christians” who have “never done an honest day’s work,” though he has toned down his rhetoric lately in response to criticism from state party chairmen who said he was needlessly antagonizing the swing voters the party needs to reach in future elections.
Last night, Mr. Dean spoke of the importance of “rebuilding the Democratic Party.” The DNC chief avoided any new attacks on Republicans, regaling the crowd with familiar lines that he’s used in speeches across the country in the past four months.
“The president says he wants to give more freedom to the Iraqis. How about giving more freedom to struggling American families?” he said.
Some Democrats said yesterday that Mr. Dean has been admonished by state party officials in the past week.
Joe Erwin, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said yesterday he told Mr. Dean in a letter that he found his accusations about Republicans “unfortunate” and that his political attacks have hurt party organizing efforts in the heavily Republican Southern state.
“Dean’s comments about white Christians and Republicans not working a day in their lives — my mom is a Christian and a Republican, and we’re trying to reach out to voters like my mom. I don’t want to ostracize these voters,” Mr. Erwin said. “I told him I didn’t think his remarks were helpful.”