COLLEGE PARK, Ga. – Seven candidates for chairman of the Democratic National Committee (search) promised Saturday to address the concerns of Southern voters, saying they had learned the lessons of the past two elections.
"You want to know my Southern strategy, show up," said Howard Dean (search), the former Vermont governor who dropped out of the presidential race during last year's Democratic primaries.
Dean and the other candidates seeking to replace Terry McAuliffe (search) as the face of the Democratic Party spoke before a Southern audience at the first of several regional caucuses to give Democratic Party officials a chance to hear from them.
"You can't compete in just 19 or 20 states," said former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, another candidate for national party chairman. "You get better odds in Las Vegas than with that program."
Each of the candidates addressed questions on how the Democratic Party can attract women, black and minority voters. None offered to change the party's positions, but all suggested the party needs to focus the issues more.
The chairman's job will be filled in February when the Democratic National Committee holds its winter meetings.
Also running for the spot are former Texas Rep. Martin Frost (search), Democratic strategist Donnie Fowler (search), former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer (search), former Ohio state Democratic Party chair David Leland (search) and Simon Rosenberg (search), head of the New Democrat Network.
"It's not just about spending more money," Rosenberg said in an interview before the forum. "Money also needs to have strategy."
Roemer said if elected he would work harder to appeal to rural voters in the South and Midwest, two areas that have gone solidly to Bush in the last two elections.
"Some people think we need to steer left. Some people think I would steer the party right. It's not about that. It's about expanding the bus," Roemer said.
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a fellow Democrat, told the candidates that the party needs to listen more to local officials. He said he is proof that Democrats know how to win on the statewide level in the South, and that can be translated to the presidential election with a more comprehensive strategy.
"The next time around, we want a 50-state platform. We want a 50-state party," Bredesen said to loud applause. "To my party, get out of Washington more."