Dean Has Momentum in DNC Race

Howard Dean's (search) hard-charging race to head the Democratic National Committee (search) is gaining early momentum that recalls the streaking start of his 2004 presidential campaign.

On Tuesday, the former Vermont governor announced he had the unanimous backing of the Florida delegation to the DNC and also the support of Democratic chairs in Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma, Washington state and Vermont. He plans house parties around the nation later this week, like the ones he used while trying to gain the Democratic presidential nomination.

Dean dominated the Democrats' presidential race through 2003, raising more than $40 million and recruiting thousands of supporters through the Internet.

But when the voting started in Iowa, Dean stumbled as Democrats rallied around a candidate they thought was more electable - Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search).

Dean's six opponents for DNC chair, capable party activists with many friends inside the party, don't have Dean's high profile and the organizational track record that revolutionized party politics in the presidential campaign.

They'll be competing to see which one can be the anti-Dean.

Many party veterans are nervous that the outspoken Dean will lead the party too far to the left and are eager to rally around an alternative candidate.

"The question about Dean is: While he will have a third of the vote easily, can he get to 50 percent?" said Donnie Fowler (search), one of Dean's opponents. Then Fowler referred to Dean's presidential campaign.

"Dean had the oranges," Fowler said, "but he couldn't make orange juice."

Candidates competing to be the party establishment's alternative to Dean are:

-Simon Rosenberg (search), a shrewd party strategist who founded the centrist New Democrat Network and led an aggressive campaign to win Hispanic voters to support Democrats.

-Martin Frost (search), a former Texas congressman who led the Democrats' congressional campaign committee and raised $80 million over two election cycles.

-Tim Roemer (search), a former Indiana congressman and the most conservative of the group, who could win support of some moderate DNC members but also could face opposition from advocates of abortion rights.

-Wellington Webb (search), former mayor of Denver, who is the only black candidate and has long-standing ties within the Democratic Party.

-David Leland (search), a former Ohio Democratic chairman and veteran party activist who touted his success helping President Clinton win Ohio eight years ago.

-Fowler, an up-and-coming Democratic strategist and son of a former national chairman, with experience running campaigns in more than a dozen states.

Efforts to recruit high-profile alternatives to Dean like Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and former labor secretary Alexis Herman were unsuccessful.

A sign of nervousness within the party was the intense campaign by some within the party to recruit current Democratic Chairman Terry McAuliffe (search) to stay in the position. McAuliffe said the race is still very open.

The party holds two more weekend regional forums for the candidates - in Sacramento, Calif. and in New York before the vote in February.

"All the candidates are up there laying their plans out," McAuliffe said. "It's still wide open."