WASHINGTON – As the Washington guessing game continues over who may take over the reins of the Democratic National Committee after the party suffered painful losses in this year's elections, another player has thrown his name into the ring.
Recently, former Vermont Gov.Howard Dean (search), who himself made a presidential run earlier this year, has been the top candidate according to inside-the-Beltway rumor mills.
Vilsack, an ally of failed presidential nominee John Kerry (search), telephoned several Democratic National Committee members as he traveled in Europe, seeking their advice and asking them to withhold their endorsement of any candidate until he decides whether to seek the job.
Vilsack said that decision will come after his return from Europe next week, according to three officials familiar with the conversations. The officials said Vilsack's candidacy appeared likely despite several complicating factors.
One is a long list of other Democrats interested in the job, including former Kerry rival Dean who began calling DNC members this week seeking support. The 400-plus DNC membership meets in February to select a replacement for McAuliffe, who is not seeking another term.
The decision comes at a critical point for dispirited Democrats, just weeks after President Bush defeated Kerry by more than 3 million votes and Republicans expanded their control of the House and Senate.
Some Democrats want leadership from outside of Washington to help build state organizations and broaden the parties' appeal to moderate voters, particularly in the Midwest, who have migrated to the GOP. Vilsack might fit that role.
During the presidential campaign, Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack, a popular personality there, was one high-profile figure who vouched for Kerry in TV commercials in her state.
Others want the next DNC leader to help rally and expand the party's core constituencies as Bush did for the GOP in the election. Dean, the anti-war candidate whose campaign vastly expanded the use of the Internet in politics, might fit that bill.
But some have questioned whether Dean would appeal to middle-of-the-road Democrats given his liberal tendencies.
Among the long list of other Democrats interested in the job or being asked to pursue it: Harold Ickes, adviser to former President Clinton; former Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia; former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros; Simon Rosenberg, founder and president of the centrist New Democrat Network; Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia; and California party chairman Art Torres.
Some Democratic activists would prefer a black party chief, such as former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk or former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.
In a meeting of leading black DNC members, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman were touted as potential candidates, said officials who attended the meeting.
Vilsack's term as Iowa governor expires in 2006, a point that might trouble Democrats who want a full-time party chairman. Vilsack could serve as chairman while a Democratic strategist runs the party's day-to-day operations, but that might not satisfy some DNC members. In his calls, Vilsack did not indicate how he would structure the job if he sought it.
Serving as chairman could also complicate — or end — Vilsack's presidential hopes should DNC members seek a commitment from him that he not leave the party post for a White House bid. Vilsack, a finalist on Kerry's list of potential vice presidential candidates, has made no secret of his presidential ambitions.
Vilsack's calls on Friday included at least two to union leaders who had backed Dean's failed candidacy against Kerry, officials said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.