A family feud has erupted over voter-turnout tactics as the Democratic Party tries to regain control of the House and Senate in this year’s midterm elections.
Three months before the elections, party officials are arguing about how the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has allocated its 2006 campaign resources, triggering a spat at the national level that has angered state party leaders who want the public bickering to end.
“The weakness of the Democrats is that we’ll screw up a two-car funeral procession. We’re not happy as Democrats unless we are wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth,” said Chris Redfern, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman.
The internecine warfare heated up even as veteran election tracker Charlie Cook said last week that he sees a possible Democratic takeover of the House and a four- or five-seat Democratic gain in the Senate.
“In the House, where Democrats need a 15-seat gain to win a majority, Republicans have 15 seats that the Cook Political Report currently rates as a toss-up,” he said in the National Journal.
“We are in the best position a party has been in Ohio since 1989, but we’ve got our friends in Washington fighting among each other. They need to shut up and get to work,” Mr. Redfern said.
He was responding to persistent reports of a widening rift between DNC Chairman Howard Dean and Illinois Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
Mr. Emmanuel has said Mr. Dean has not put together a voter-turnout operation that can effectively compete with the Republican grass-roots volunteer organization, which proved successful in the 2004 elections. Other Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, have lodged similar complaints.
Mr. Emmanuel, who is not on speaking terms with Mr. Dean, has said that the DCCC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) — led by Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York — will set up independent turnout operations.
Party advisers confirmed Friday that Mr. Emmanuel has picked Michael Whouley, a veteran party strategist and turnout specialist, to lead the DCCC voter drive.
DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said the group “will be working closely with Democratic House candidates on a get-out-the-vote effort,” but she declined to discuss specifics of the plan.
Meanwhile, the DNC fired back Friday at Mr. Emmanuel, saying that Mr. Dean already has spent an unprecedented amount of money building a campaign infrastructure in the states that will boost Democratic turnout in 2006 and beyond.
“Governor Dean is investing $12 million in our get-out-the-vote effort in 38 states, which is 10 times what the DNC spent in 2002,” DNC spokesman Karen Finney said of the former Vermont governor.
Mr. Emmanuel complained that Mr. Dean’s decision to pay for additional party organizers in all 50 states, including heavily Republican states where Democrats stand little or no chance of winning, is a waste of resources.
But Ms. Finney said that by hiring additional staff, the DNC was not only building the party for the future but also giving state parties additional get-out-the-vote organizers, an argument that Democratic state chairmen defended.
As a result of the DNC’s party-building initiatives, Mr. Redfern said, “We’ve got a great ground operation. Give me six paid staffers, with some resources for television and radio, and the ability to canvass voters, and we will win.”
But one of the party’s top turnout specialists defended the DCCC and the DSCC’s decision to set up their own get-out-the-vote drives.
“I applaud the decision by DCCC to put together their own separate turnout operation and to retain Michael Whouley as their chief consultant,” Donna Brazile said Friday. “With record low primary turnout on both sides, Whouley is smart enough to work with both the state parties and the candidates to ensure record turnout this fall.”