WASHINGTON – Democrats competing to lead their national party are battling for the role of "the anti-Dean," the alternative candidate to front-runner Howard Dean (search).
The field could be narrowed in next few days, as state party chairs and organized labor offer their views on the race.
With Democrats out of power in the White House, Senate and House, the Democratic Party's leadership role is especially important.
Few disagree that Dean, the former Vermont governor who was presidential front-runner for the Democrats throughout 2003, has surged into the early lead with about three-dozen endorsements from Democratic National Committee members.
"Governor Dean has a lot of support and is picking up a lot of speed," said veteran DNC member Donna Brazile. "But there are a lot of us who are still undecided."
The candidates for Democratic chair are Dean, former Texas Rep. Martin Frost (search), Democratic activists Donnie Fowler (search) and Simon Rosenberg (search), former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb (search), former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer (search) and former Ohio state chair David Leland (search).
The DNC election is set for Feb. 12.
Dean has been saying the kinds of things Democrats want to hear, talking about running campaigns in every state and helping build local and state parties. But some Democrats worry the Northeasterner's high profile and sometimes sharp tongue are not what the party needs to expand its base to regions like the South and Midwest.
"Does the party want the type of leadership that will focus on organization and can go into any state and win elections?" said Frost, considered Dean's strongest opponent by some. "Or do they want someone who will be a high-profile media personality?"
The candidates are invited to New York City this weekend for the last regional candidate forum. On Sunday and Monday, state party leaders will discuss whom they want to endorse.
Early next week, the AFL-CIO could decide whether to endorse one of the candidates.
Dean, Frost, Fowler and Rosenberg have all been talking about their chances to gain support from these groups, but it's far from clear whether either the state chairs or labor will settle on one candidate.
—Frost points to his record as head of the Democrats' congressional campaign committee in 1996 and 1998, raising $80 million and helping House Democrats gain ground on Republicans.
—Fowler says his experience running campaigns in more than a dozen states over several campaigns helps him understand what state chairs need to build a successful party.
—Rosenberg points to his success raising money for the centrist New Democrat Network and his aggressive campaign to win Hispanic support for the party.
—Roemer notes his background in national security as a member of the Sept. 11 commission and his ability to appeal to voters in all states.
—Webb says his experience as a mayor would help him connect to local Democratic officials.
—Leland points to his ties in Ohio, the critical state in the 2004 presidential election.