Democratic Ranks Pleased by Dean Performance

Capitol Hill Democrats may be saying that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee doesn't speak for them, but Democratic activists and rank-and-file members outside the Beltway say they are happy with Dean's no-nonsense approach.

"People outside Washington, D.C., love Howard Dean. He raises money for state parties, he sends money to state parties and he's attacking Republicans. That's what the chair of the party is," said Bob Mulholland (search), a campaign adviser to the California Democratic Party and one of the DNC members who in February voted for the former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential hopeful to become chairman.

"There is overwhelming support for Governor Dean, and [Democrats] say, 'keep hitting them Republicans,'" Mulholland said, adding that he has seen no backlash against Dean since some comments he made about Republicans drew fire in early June. "Since then he's been on the road and getting good crowds."

Eric Davis, a grassroots activist in suburban Chicago who headed Dean's volunteer effort in Illinois during the presidential campaign, said Dean's aggressiveness is why Democrats elected him as their chairman.

"The Republicans have characterized Democrats as a bunch of weenies. Well, guess what? Howard Dean is no weenie," Davis said. "The fact that Beltway types have their bowties in a knot doesn't surprise me. They never got Howard Dean in the first place."

At the Campaign for America's Future conference in Washington on June 2, Dean told a roomful of grassroots Democratic supporters "a lot of [Republicans] have never made an honest living in their lives," distinguishing Republican lifestyles from hardships incurred by America's working families.

Four days later, he told a San Francisco audience that "the Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people. They're a pretty monolithic party. They all behave the same and they all look the same. It's pretty much a white, Christian party."

Dean's comments drew predictable fire from the GOP, which has already cast Dean as a hothead, left-winger whose "scream" speech after his losses at the Iowa caucuses last year will go down in history.

Some prominent Democrats in Washington also chose to distance themselves from Dean's remarks, which drew a media frenzy and questions about his ability to represent and achieve broader party goals.

"[Dean] doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats," Sen. Joe Biden said on a weekend television appearance after the remarks were made. Biden's office recently announced he is planning to run for president in 2008.

"I don't think [Dean's remarks] express the views of our party. I think probably, upon reflection, they don't express … Mr. Dean's views. I think they were overstated," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., often a harsh critic of Republicans on Capitol Hill.

"Inclusive language is going to be more effective in terms of us building a majority for the Democrats," said Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

Other Democrats gave somewhat mixed support, saying publicly that Dean's exuberance and inexperience on the job may be responsible for his candor, but that he is appreciated overall for his party-building diligence.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., another 2008 presidential prospect, initially said Dean didn't speak for them, but then amended their remarks to emphasize his dedication to the party.

"I disagreed with him and I said so," Edwards said on his Web log, saying he had problems with the rhetoric. "We are both talking about the Republicans and their failure to address the needs of working people … we won't always use the same words. But we will always fight the same fight."

Still others, like Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the flap reflected the Republicans' efforts to divert media attention from real issues on Capitol Hill.

Democrats tried to turn the tables on Republicans shortly after the Dean kerfuffle when White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove said liberals wanted to prepare indictments and offer counseling to terrorists after Sept. 11, 2001, rather than go to war.

Several Democrats throughout the country who spoke to say they've had enough of the mixed messages coming from the Democratic elite in Washington, saying it is about time they stick together and stick it to the Republicans just like Dean.

"Every Democrat I personally know is upset about the comments made by Democrats in Washington," said Jeremy Alderson (search), a New York Democrat and anti-poverty activist who hosts the "Homeless Marathon Radio Broadcast."

He called Democratic criticism, "the mealy-mouthed, weak-kneed accommodation rhetoric that amounts to nothing more than sucking up to the people in power."

Joe Magid, spokesman for Grassroots for America in Pennsylvania, a volunteer on Dean's presidential campaign, said the Democratic establishment in Washington attacks Dean's colorful speaking style to delegitimize his impact on the party's agenda.

"I think it's all a smokescreen," Magid said. "They think, 'This guy's going to rock our boat and change things in Washington and we don't like that.' He's not a hot-head, he's a straight shooter, and they don't like that."

Dave Johnson, founder of blog and fellow at the Commonweal Institute in California, said he agrees with Dean's statements.

"My own opinion? I think that what Dean was saying provides a necessary counter to the right's constantly repeated refrain that Democrats hate America and hate Christianity," Johnson said, adding that he believes that the comments will encourage "blacks, Jews, Hispanics and others back to the Democrats … and encourage Christians to take back their religion from this right-wing takeover."

But not every Democrat outside Washington was pleased with Dean, and some, like South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin, suggest that Democrats who live in conservative white, Christian districts might be uncomfortable with the chairman's choice of words.

"I did tell him in a note that the comment about white, Christians and Republicans concerned me," said Erwin, who hails from a predominantly Republican state with a strong Christian conservative base.

Pro-Democrat blogs, many of which helped to gather the necessary support for Dean when he was fighting to become chairman, are now circulating a "Dean Speaks for Me," petition, which reportedly has nearly 18,000 signatures, more than 15,000 of which were presented to Dean at a recent event at DemocracyFest 2005 in Austin, Texas.

Mike Lavigne, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, blamed the "right-wing media" for driving the story about Dean's remarks, saying Democrats who criticize Dean are a tiny minority.

"I think he's doing a great job. He's raising money, he's organizing in states that in the past the Democrats didn't before play a role in," Lavigne said. "He's rebuilding the infrastructure of this party. If every once in a while, one of his comments gets overblown or taken out of context, then so what?"