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May 20, 2005
Democrats Dissatisfied With Dean

USA Today picks up on a building realization in political circles that Howard Dean may not have been the best choice to represent Democrats as the party tries to find some appeal to centrists. Jill Lawrence uses the same contrast as I did earlier this week between Dean and his GOP counterpart, Ken Mehlman, to plumb Democratic dissatisfaction with the Vermont governor's first 100 days on the job:

Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, is courting black and Hispanic voters on a regular basis. Beyond the usual run of speeches, fundraisers and meetings with donors, he has visited Latino neighborhoods and historically black campuses. He has attended black-oriented receptions and ceremonies, spoken to minority chambers of commerce and raised money for Otto Banks of Harrisburg, Pa., a black city council candidate new to the GOP.

Dean, who reaches Day 100 as Democratic National Committee chairman Monday, is for the most part speaking to diehard Democrats who are the backbone of their party. He's addressed Democrats in nine states dominated by Republicans, such as Kansas and Mississippi, and in party strongholds such as California and Massachusetts. He's spoken to labor unions, gay-rights groups and state party chairs all pillars of the party.

Some Democrats are frustrated by the contrast between the two approaches, even as they praise Dean's efforts to revitalize flagging state parties. "Democrats should be stirring things up, roiling the waters on (the GOP) side the way Mehlman is on ours. He's playing in our sandbox," says Steve Rosenthal, CEO of America Coming Together, a group formed to energize and turn out Democratic voters.

Will Marshall, president of the centrist Progressive Policy Institute, agrees that Democrats need to "go raiding behind Republican lines." He says his group and the affiliated Democratic Leadership Council will be doing "some missionary work of our own" in Republican states this year.

Even more disturbing to Democrats has been Dean's lack of message discipline. In a period when stemwinders should be placed in mothballs in favor of positive focus on party priorities, Dean instead has gone out of his way to generate headline-grabbing soundbites that result in embarassment for the DNC. They selected Dean for his enthusiastic Leftist following and his earlier ability during his Vermont career to build a consensus in the center. However, he's given little evidence of that ability, or even that desire, as he moves across the country:

Dean is offering Democrats his trademark red-meat rhetoric along with guidance on outreach. In speeches covered locally, he has called Republicans "corrupt," "brain-dead" and "mean." "They are not nice people," he said last month in a radio interview on Air America Minnesota, according to the political newsletter Hotline. Last weekend he said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, whose associates are under investigation but who has not been charged with anything, should go home to Houston to "serve his jail sentence" at Texas expense.

At the same time, Dean tells Democrats they need to "respect people in all 50 states" and try to win them over. "We need to talk to people from our hearts," he told California Democrats. He said Democrats should "say what our values are" and "inform Americans about what we believe instead of letting the other party do it."

He should be heeding his own advice. Howard Kurtz noticed that the left wing of the blogosphere has quit jumping to Dean's defense, and even links to Blue State, which would like someone to turn down Howard's "loud". (Howard Kurtz also links to CQ in the same column regarding his attacks on Tom DeLay.) Dean hasn't just failed to appeal to the center, he's beginning to lose the trust of the committed base. These are the same mistakes he made over and over again during the primary, and when challenged he falls apart, usually on camera as he did with Al Sharpton during the Iowa debate.

Dean faces Tim Russert on Sunday morning, which has to be a make-or-break point in his new job. If he can't explain his rhetoric away and shift back to party-building with the high-profile but likely sympathetic Russert, Dean may soon find himself back on the bike paths of Vermont. The Democrats cannot afford to have Mehlman eat away at their base while Dean antagonizes the centrists, and players like Rosenthal and Marshall know it.

UPDATE: Mad How's still at it:

Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, who famously refused to prejudge Osama bin Laden's guilt, is standing by his judgment that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay may deserve jail time for allegations of corruption.

"Tom DeLay is corrupt. No question about it," Dean said Friday. "This is a guy who shouldn't be in Congress and maybe ought to be serving in jail."

What's Dean up to -- building his campaign for Travis County DA?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 20, 2005 12:46 PM

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» Dean: Bad For Dems from Am I A Pundit Now?
Cap'n Ed informs us that some dems are not all that happy with Howard Dean. Now, is anyone surprised that when the dems elected Dean as DNC chairman, they got . . . Howard Dean? Is he acting at all out of character? Playing to the base and foot-i... [Read More]

Tracked on May 20, 2005 3:14 PM

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USA Today has a rather lengthy piece on how, as Howard Dean reaches day 100 of his tenure as DNC Chairman, both party chairmen are going at the job. [Read More]

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Tracked on May 21, 2005 8:04 AM

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