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Draft Dean for Democrats

The Democratic Party should reinvigorate itself with the leadership of the former candidate

Since taking over the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2001, Terry McAuliffe has devoted that organization to raising massive amounts of large, unregulated donations known as soft money. With McAuliffe’s recent announcement that he will leave the DNC after the November elections, Democrats should find a leader who can harvest the small donations and grassroots energy that will keep the Party competitive and strong. Gov. Howard Dean is that kind of leader.

While we believe that John Kerry is the best candidate to put the Democratic message before the voters this November, there is no question that Governor Dean has shown the kind of skills that the DNC needs.

First, Dean has shown an ability to raise small donations from the grassroots of the Party. With more than a quarter of a million donors, most donating less than $100, Dean shattered Democratic fundraising records in a race with nine candidates competing for the dollars and the support of the Party faithful.

Democrats usually lag far behind Republicans in hard money donations, which by law are limited to no more than $2,000 per individual. In the first six months of the 2003-2004 election cycle, Democrats raised nearly $83 million less than Republicans in hard money. After the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, popularly known as McCain-Feingold, the soft-money donations that Democrats have used to overcome the Republican hard-money advantage are illegal. Even before they were illegal, these massive donations from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals undermined the Democrats’ populist rhetoric and diverted the Party’s focus away from the grassroots. Dean is the one Democrat who has shown the ability to build a national campaign on small donations. His experience and talent could go a long way towards making the Democrats competitive in the post-McCain-Feingold world and legitimizing the Democratic claim of being the party of the people.

Dean has also shown that he can excite the Democratic Party base. During his primary campaign, Dean signed up more than half a million voters on his website, and he used far more volunteers in both New Hampshire and Iowa than any of the other campaigns. More importantly, Dean built his support by standing up for core Democratic principles, from multilateral foreign policy to universal healthcare.

As DNC Chair, McAuliffe shied away from promoting ideological cohesion in the Democratic Party. Under his leadership, the Democrats were largely unable to present a unified message in the face of the Republican’s radical platform. McAuliffe’s decision indicated a focus on moderate voters at the expense of the Democratic base. In contrast, the Republicans have been successful by playing to their base and refusing to compromise their principles. To counter the Republican’s radical agenda, the Democrats must clearly articulate their own vision. Dean could build the kind of grassroots movement that would allow the Democrats to stand up for their ideas.

Finally, Dean has the administrative experience to manage an organization like the DNC. He has served as the head of the Democratic Governor’s Association and the National Governor’s Association. In both those positions, he showed an ability to work with all kinds of leaders to promote common interests. As Governor of Vermont, Dean was a prudent fiscal manager who expanded important social services while balancing the budget for 11 straight years. The DNC, which suffers from a multi-million dollar deficit, could use a shrewd money manager like Dean.

Dean’s current project, Democracy for America, reveals why Dean would be a major improvement for the DNC. Democracy for America is focused on building a grassroots movement to get rid of George W. Bush. At the same time, the organization is helping progressive Democrats receive the money they need to be competitive. Dean did not abandon the Democratic Party after failing to win the presidential nomination, nor did he give up fighting for his beliefs. He is finding innovative new ways to help the Democrats while rejuvenating the party from within. This is exactly what the DNC should be doing.

The DNC will not select its new Chairman until after the November elections. But, as Dean showed, grassroots effort is the only way to make significant change in the Democratic Party or in the nation, and those changes take time. To that end, several former Dean staffers have launched a website to draft Dean to run for DNC Chair, and to encourage Democrats to elect him. The website, www.deanfordemocrats.com, is the beginning of what we hope will be a massive effort to reshape the Democratic Party for the new millennium.

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