A party chairman has two main functions, interrelated but not the same: building the voter base and raising funds. In the former role, the chair has to reach outside the base to bring in new voters while maintaining good relations with the people already inside the tent. The latter role gets measured more in opposition to what the other major party accomplishes during the same period.
In both tasks, it looks like the Howard Dean experiment has failed. Dean has spent most of the past year playing to a radical base with statements like “I hate Republicans and everything they stand for,” instead of working with liberal Republicans and center-minded independents that eschew that kind of hatred politics. Today, the Washington Post reports that Dean — whom the DNC selected for his prodigious fundraising ability in the last presidential primary season — has allowed another huge funding gap between the DNC and RNC to arise on the cusp of the mid-term elections:
The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate took the chairmanship of the national party eight months ago, riding the enthusiasm of grass-roots activists who relished his firebrand rhetorical style. But he faced widespread misgivings from establishment Democrats, including elected officials and Washington operatives, who questioned whether Dean was the right fit in a job that traditionally has centered on fundraising and the courting of major donors.
Now, the latest financial numbers are prompting new doubts. From January through September, the Republican National Committee raised $81.5 million, with $34 million remaining in the bank. The Democratic National Committee, by contrast, showed $42 million raised and $6.8 million in the bank. …
Several Washington Democrats not favorably inclined toward Dean said the party was willing to gamble on his “potential for hoof in mouth disease” — in the words of one lobbyist — because of the unexpected fundraising prowess he showed in the 2004 race.
Well, they got the disease in spades, but the money has mostly failed to arrive. With the midterm primaries less than three months away, the GOP has four times as much money in the bank as the Democrats, and they have done much more work in reaching outside of their traditional base for both voters and candidates. Ken Mehlman has drafted Lynn Swann to run as a Republican for the Pennsylvania governor’s race, and convinced Michael Steele to campaign for the Senate. What has Dean done to convince pro-life moderates to run for the Democrats, or even to vote for them?
By any measure, the Dean chairmanship has been a failure of embarrassing proportions for the Democrats, but now they’re stuck with him for at least one electoral cycle. If they fire him now, his radical-left base may well bolt to the Greens, and the Democrats can’t afford that at this point with so many of their other constituencies in flux. The other option will be to force a new staff on Dean that will reduce his role to that of a national figurehead while competent fundraisers and party builders take their orders from someone else. Expect Democrats to take the latter option and try to play catch-up to Mehlman and the GOP over the next 90 days.