WASHINGTON – Black voters are upset with the Democratic Party for coming around just weeks before elections seeking their votes, party chairman Howard Dean said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
Taking black voters for granted is a long-standing problem for the party that dates to the 1960s, said Dean, who promised changes in strategy even as he cited diversity at the top of the Democratic National Committee.
"African-Americans are annoyed with the Democratic Party because we ask them for their votes four weeks before the election instead of being in the community now and that's a mistake I'm trying to fix," he said. "There's a new generation of African-American leaders and a new generation of African-Americans. We can't go out and say could you vote for us because we were so helpful during the civil rights era."
Marking 100 days as the party's boss, the former presidential candidate addressed several issues in an interview with AP reporters and editors, including the compromise in the Senate on President Bush's stalled judicial nominees and the right of Democrats to filibuster.
Dean was hesitant to call the compromise a win for his party.
"It's a real test of whether this is a real long-term agreement. That will come when we find out if the president consults with the Democrats" before sending future nominees to the Senate, including a possible Supreme Court choice.
He was more forceful in describing the impact on the Republicans.
"The potential is that we loosened the death grip the right wing had on the Republican Party," Dean said. "It was clearly a loss for the president because he was getting accustomed to ramming things through the House and the Senate without any confrontation."
Dean has pushed to strengthen the party in heavily Republican states and to improve the party's outreach to women, Hispanics and black voters. In the last presidential election, Bush fared better than previous Republican candidates with several traditional Democratic voting blocs.
Dean said he was not concerned that there might be a major erosion in the black vote but was worried about people staying home on Election Day. "We're going to treat every vote as a swing vote," he said.
During the 2004 presidential race, Dean angered many blacks when he said he wanted "to be the candidate for the guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks." He later apologized and called the flag a "painful symbol" to blacks
During one Democratic debate, rival Al Sharpton (search) criticized Dean, the former Vermont governor, for having had a Cabinet with no blacks.
Dean's presidential run also was marked by his use of the Internet to raise money, and he said the party is looking for ways to "empower people" to get involved the way they were initially drawn to Dean's presidential bid.
The Democratic chairman expressed admiration for one Republican: first lady Laura Bush, who has taken a more active role for the administration.
"She's an asset, it's a smart move on their part," Dean said. "People like her, I like her. She's frank, she doesn't toe the party line, she's not a captive of the right wing. She's probably the best salesman they've got."