WASHINGTON – Democratic governors, determined to grab control of their party, said Thursday they will jointly support moderate candidates from outside Washington to lead the Democrats.
No sitting governor is interested in heading the Democratic National Committee (search) said the governors who gathered for the first major meeting of party officials since widespread Democratic losses in the presidential and congressional elections last month.
The Democratic governors said their party must move geographically from Washington and philosophically to the middle to attract moderate voters. That move starts with the party leadership, they said.
"This for us is our moment to push an agenda that in my view is centrist and that speaks to where most people are," said Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who added that the governors will be interviewing prospective candidates in the next few weeks.
Democrats will vote at their February meeting on a replacement for chairman Terry McAuliffe (search), who is not seeking another term. The governors said they want to divide McAuliffe's duties as CEO and chief spokesman for the party into two jobs to ensure that the party's main face won't be a Washington insider.
"It could be any number of people who are not willing to give up full time their jobs and be inside the Beltway," said Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Granholm said most of the governors agreed in their private meeting that they wanted to support a centrist who either "comes from or is comfortable in" a battleground or Republican-leaning state.
"The spokesperson has to be somebody who is able to speak the language of values, of being pro-innovation and small business, of reaching across the aisle, of reaching those independents and perhaps moderate Republicans who may feel alienated by a drift that is too far to the right of the Republican Party," she said.
There are 21 Democratic governors, including a dozen in states won by Bush. In Washington state, Republican Dino Rossi was certified as the winner Tuesday, but his winning 42-vote margin makes another recount inevitable.
The governors avoided criticizing four-term Democratic Sen. John Kerry (search) for losing the presidential election, but they said the party cannot continue to be led by liberal-leaning Washingtonians.
"I think Washington gets caught in what I would call Washington-speak, and as a result doesn't understand the significance of how issues are playing in the heartland," said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. "We have gotten away from expressing what is the core values of our party and as a result, I think we suffered mightily in the presidential campaign and in various Senate campaigns."
Rendell once worked as part of a dual party leadership team that the governors are advocating — he was the national party spokesman while serving as Philadelphia mayor. Joe Andrew served as the chairman at the time.
Several Democrats have expressed interest in running for party chairman, including former presidential candidate Howard Dean, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, political strategist Donnie Fowler, defeated Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, former Clinton adviser Harold Ickes and New York businessman Leo Hindery.
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman have said they will not pursue the job. Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen also said Thursday that she will not seek the chairmanship.
Sebelius said other former governors are being talked about, including Roy Barnes of Georgia, Jim Hunt of North Carolina and Jim Hodges of South Carolina. Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said Louisiana Sen. John Breaux was mentioned as a possible candidate during the governors' private talks.
The Democratic Governors Association named new officers at its meeting, including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as chairman and Granholm as vice chair. Traditionally the vice chair takes over the top spot after one year, but Granholm said she may not because she faces re-election in 2006.