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Dean faces challenges as DNC chairman (15254)


Dean faces challenges as DNC chairman

Dean faces challenges as DNC chairman

Many liberal Democrats and gay rights activists are waiting to see whether Howard Dean will maintain his famously tough progressive stance as he settles into his new role as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

A year ago, an activist group from the Seattle area gave Howard Dean a thin golden statue of a backbone. The Oscar-like award honored the former Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont governor for standing up against the Iraq war and other Bush administration actions.

Now, as the pro-gay Dean settles into his new role as head of the Democratic Party, that golden spine has come to represent, for many liberal Democrats, Dean's potential to develop a tougher, take-no-prisoners attitude among the party faithful.

"There's no gut-check required for Dean. Dean just needs to be Dean," said Dal LaMagna, founder of the Progressive Government Institute. "He's the kind of person who's a collaborator, a facilitator. He's not someone who has a clique or who will talk only to people in his clique."

In an e-mail sent to supporters Thursday, Dean said he has received an overwhelming response from "grassroots Democrats" offering input on the party's agenda. "So many Democrats can't wait to get started. They want to grow our party from the ground up. And that's exactly what we're going to do," Dean said.

Dean was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee two weeks ago on a platform that he would rebuild state parties, take the offensive against Republicans, and do a better job explaining the party's positions on issues. He replaces outgoing party chief Terry McAuliffe.

As chairman, the normally blunt Dean appears to be trying to shift from flamboyant presidential candidate to cautious party spokesman. The antiwar Dean has sidestepped questions about the Iraq war and given tame descriptions of the party's position on abortion and gay marriage.

Jodie Evans, a founder of the women's peace group Code Pink, said she's watching to see if Dean maintains his grassroots connection or becomes part of the Democratic establishment in Washington. "He had the courage to step into a position where he can break the Democratic Party out of its stagnation," she said. "Does he have the leadership capacity to do that?"

It's this balancing act of pleasing the more liberal parts of the party while also appealing to middle-of-the-road voters that will be Dean's biggest challenge, said Charles Franklin, a political scientist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Howard Dean almost certainly has to disappoint his strongest liberal supporters simply because he's going to have to serve a broader Democratic Party," Franklin said. "So it's almost inevitable that there will be charges of sellout."

Democratic leaders, initially wary of a Dean chairmanship, started embracing his leadership after several high-profile Democrats vying for the position backed out of the race. But activist groups such as the Progressive Democrats of America, made up of many former Dean and Kucinich campaign volunteers, and TrueMajority, a Vermont group founded by Ben & Jerry's owner Ben Cohen, supported his chairmanship from the beginning.

Progressive Democrats launched a "Draft Dean for DNC Chair" campaign, and TrueMajority urged supporters to send 13,500 letters to Democratic leaders on Dean's behalf. "He saw the power of grassroots activism," said Duane Peterson, director of TrueMajority ACTION. "That's how he got in there as chairman, so there would be no reason for him to turn his back on it. It worked." (AP)

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