February 6, 2005
From Ashes of '04 Effort, Dean Reinvents Himself (TODD S. PURDUM , 2/06/05, NY Times)
At first, almost nobody in the Democratic establishment wanted Dr. Dean as chairman - not senators, congressmen or governors, most of whom looked askance at his insurgent presidential candidacy last year and tried to field their own candidates for party chairman this winter. Only the people - more precisely, a critical mass of the 447 members of the national committee - liked Dr. Dean. They are generally liberal state and local grassroots activists eager for a party leadership that will take on President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress.
By Friday, Dr. Dean said he had rounded up more than 240 votes on the committee, after a dogged courtship of cold calls to committee members and networking with longtime supporters. Two rivals, Simon Rosenberg, the head of the centrist New Democrat Network, and Donnie Fowler Jr., a party operative from South Carolina dropped out on Friday. His remaining opponent, former Representative Timothy J. Roemer of Indiana, does not claim support that is more than in the double digits.
"I think how it happened is that people came to a judgment that he has national standing, he's a strong spokesman, a proven fund-raiser," said Harold M. Ickes, a longtime aide and friend to Hillary and Bill Clinton who considered running for chairman but endorsed Dr. Dean instead.
"He understands the importance of rebuilding parties, and he can really connect with average people and bring them into the system," Mr. Ickes said. "I think his biggest challenge is, will he understand that he's no longer a governor or a presidential candidate, but that he is the head of the party, and as such he'll have to consult very widely and represent many views."
So does he?
"I think he understands it," Mr. Ickes said. "But understanding something and changing long habits are two different things." [...]
[S]ome prominent Democrats said that Dr. Dean's proven skills on the campaign trail in 2003 - his ability to inspire voters and to raise money through small donations over the Internet - were desirable traits in a party chairman, while his proven deficits - a sometimes loose tongue and hot temper - mattered less for a partisan leader than for a president.
"I think what people want in their party - I'm talking about grassroots activists - is someone who will fight, who is a proven, effective political communicator," said David Wilhelm, a former chairman who was anything but a firebrand during President Bill Clinton's first term. "In the age of the Internet, money flows from that, volunteers flow from that."
Mr. Wilhelm noted that "15 years ago, you might have thought, 'Well, somebody like that will alienate the money people' " - the big donors who have traditionally served as the Democrats' financial backbone. The paradox is that Dr. Dean himself has now become one of the party's most important money people. Even after he dropped out of the presidential race last year, he helped raise about $3.5 million for Democrats around the country.
So Mr. Dean hasn't reinvented himself at all--the Party is reinventing itself in his his image, right? Posted by Orrin Judd at February 6, 2005 9:06 AM