- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 26, 2006

Democratic state chairmen, decrying postelection bickering, say the party’s gains were in large part a result of National Chairman Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, which helped make deep inroads into Republican territory.

The state chairmen, describing themselves as angered by infighting among party leaders in the House of Representatives as well as criticism of Mr. Dean by two prominent Democratic campaign consultants, credited the Dean strategy for their victories.

The efforts of Mr. Dean, the former presidential candidate and Vermont governor, put them in a stronger position for the 2008 race for the White House, the chairmen said.

“Those folks who are criticizing him do not understand this is not a two-year strategy, but a 10-year or longer strategy to reclaim voters in the Midwest, West and South,” said Lawrence Gates, the Democratic chairman in Kansas.

Campaign consultants James Carville and Stan Greenberg have contended that Mr. Dean did not provide enough funding to win more seats as the Democrats reclaimed power in Congress.

But Mr. Gates said Mr. Dean’s state-partnership program, which placed three to five full-time organizers in each of the 50 states, resulted in “a tremendously successful cycle for us in Kansas.”

In the heavily Republican state, Democrats kept a hold on the governor’s office, denied Republican Rep. Jim Ryun’s bid for a sixth term and made gains in the Republican-dominated state legislature.

New Mexico’s Democratic chairman, John Wertheim, said additional organizers and funds provided by Mr. Dean increased party turnout and helped Democrats make “huge gains in the state legislature and win control of all but one constitutional office in the state.”

Mr. Gates, Mr. Wertheim and other chairmen said there was unanimous support in their ranks for the Dean plan.

“Carville and the other Washington insiders don’t know what they’re talking about,” one chairman said.

In an analysis of the elections last week, Mr. Carville attacked Mr. Dean for not taking fuller advantage of the anti-Republican wave by pouring more funds into voter-turnout efforts in 14 House contests where Republicans held on to their seats by one percentage point or less.

Charging that Mr. Dean “should be held accountable” for those losses, Mr. Carville asked, “Do we want to go into ‘08 with a C-minus general at the DNC?”

Other Democratic campaign officials have been critical of Mr. Dean’s emphasis on his 50-state organizing strategy, including Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fought with Mr. Dean over funding for House races. He, Mr. Carville and Mr. Greenberg were all White House political advisers to President Clinton.

The internal bickering erupted during a parallel battle within the Democrats’ leadership ranks between House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and incoming Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who won his post over Mrs. Pelosi’s choice, Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania.

Party chairmen were reluctant to publicly criticize their leadership, but some made it clear they did not think the latest squabbles were good for the party’s image as it prepares to take control of Congress in January.

“To fight like this in public is embarrassing for our party,” an official said.

“Democrats have been doing this for 35 years. A little success causes us to start bickering again,” Mr. Gates said. “The Democrats are a feisty, independent-minded bunch. We’ll have our family fights, and then we’ll go on together.”

But pollster John Zogby said the carping and postelection leadership fights signaled deeper problems for the Democrats and their party’s future.

“This election was a rare opportunity for the Democrats. The Republicans were so wounded, you’ve got to ask why the Democrats did not pick up 50 seats, and we’re seeing the answer right now. They couldn’t agree on a campaign message, they can’t agree on their leadership and they don’t seem to be able to agree on anything,” Mr. Zogby said.

But even some of Mr. Dean’s strongest defenders acknow-ledged they sometimes wondered whether more money for voter turnout might have tipped a close race into the Democrats’ win column.

“There were not a shortage of resources in New Mexico,” Mr. Wertheim said. But, he added, “I might have tried to put more expenditures in chasing absentee ballots. I probably could have put more money into that if I had asked for it. It might have helped on the margins.”

He noted that as things turned out, a Republican incumbent, Rep. Heather A. Wilson, won re-election by a razor-thin 875 votes.

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