- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 22, 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Howard Dean, long known for bucking the establishment, has spent much of his time as Democratic chairman trying to strengthen the party outside of Washington — and his rank and file loves him for it.

“He is truly nationalizing the Democratic Party, and he’s looking to the future,” said Steve Achelpohl, head of the Nebraska state party.

Mr. Dean’s approach, however, does not sit well with some Democrats in the nation’s capital. These critics grumble, in private, that perhaps Mr. Dean is not focusing enough on fundraising for House and Senate races in November, particularly when the party sees an opportunity to retake power in Congress.

“When you first elected me, I said that we would take our country back vote by vote, block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood,” Mr. Dean told members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) yesterday. “We are making progress toward our goal.”

He said the party no longer is just about building up presidential candidates. In practice, that means the DNC is paying more attention to state parties to try to elect Democrats to offices at all levels, from city hall to Capitol Hill and the White House in 2008.

In the current strategy, Mr. Dean said, more than 175 workers, paid by the DNC, are scattered across all 50 states, where they are organizing and reaching voters. He then listed mayoral and gubernatorial races where Democrats have won in states that lean Republican.

Mr. Dean gets high praise from state party leaders for sending resources their way in hopes of positioning Democrats to be competitive. Though giving him some credit for that goal, some Democrats in Washington are concerned that congressional races this year may get short shrift.

“There’s a natural tension, and I think we have to get beyond that,” said Iowa Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson, who heads the state’s Democratic Party. “I don’t think it’s an either-or equation. We have to do both.

“I think that Democrats will step up to the plate and put the money necessary” into House and Senate contests, she said.

Democrats see a chance to retake Congress this fall, but fundraising totals show that the Republican National Committee (RNC) holds a huge edge over the DNC. That advantage raises questions of whether the Democratic Party is raising enough money to supplement the efforts of the campaign committees for Senate and House candidates.

Mr. Dean congratulated Democrats for raising $18 million in the first three months of the year. He said it was a record for the DNC in that period outside of a presidential-election year.

He didn’t mention, however, that the DNC has only $10.5 million on hand, compared with almost $43 million the RNC has available seven months before congressional elections.

Senate Democrats have $32.1 million and are maintaining a 2-to-1 advantage over their Republican Senate counterparts. House Democrats have $23 million in the bank and are slightly trailing the Republican House campaign committee.

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