Democratic National Committee leaders embraced feisty party boss Howard Dean on Saturday and urged him to keep fighting despite a flap over his blunt comments on Republicans.
After a meeting of the DNC’s 40-member executive committee at a downtown hotel, members said Dean was doing exactly what they elected him to do — build the party in all states and aggressively challenge Republicans.
“I hope Governor Dean will remember that he didn’t get elected to be a wimp,” said DNC member Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a South Carolina state representative. “We have been waiting a long time for someone to stand up for Democrats.”
Dean took fire from Republicans and some Democrats earlier this week for a series of recent comments, including calling Republicans “pretty much a white, Christian party” and saying they “never made an honest living in their lives.”
Some Democrats in Washington, including party congressional leaders and several potential 2008 White House candidates, distanced themselves from Dean’s comments and called them mistakes.
But in a series of interviews DNC members backed the former Vermont governor, known for his fiery rhetoric during his failed 2004 White House run, and said they knew what they were getting when they elected him in February as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“Howard Dean is going to be much more aggressive, much more outspoken and much more of a risk-taker outside the Beltway than any chairman has been. We knew that,” said Alvaro Cifuentes, chairman of the DNC Hispanic caucus.
“We have to get our politics out of Washington. We cannot continue to be held captive by party leaders who I respect but who have to play their own local politics,” Cifuentes said, calling congressional Democrats “timid” and the flap over his comments “mostly a Beltway play.”
BUILDING THE BASE
Karen Marchioro, a DNC member from Washington state, said she was stunned to see so many congressional Democrats back away from Dean.
“We always defend them, why won’t they defend us? And they want us to support them for president?” she asked. “I have no desire to lose, I just think this is the way you win — you let people know where you stand and you fight.”
Cobb-Hunter said Dean “should consider the source — congressional Democrats. What’s their track record? He’s doing what a lot of us wanted him to do and expected him to do.”
The flap over Dean’s comments was not mentioned directly during a two-hour executive committee working session, which included polling reports and Dean’s report on his effort to move resources and organizers into all 50 states.
Several DNC members said Dean had done what he promised — shift the party’s focus to local races rather than concentrate solely on the White House, and pump money into “red” states dominated in recent years by Republicans.
Western Democrats said they were thrilled Dean attended a regional meeting in Helena, Montana, last weekend. “How many Democratic chairmen have gone out to Montana?” asked Steven Alari of California.
“When we elected Dean we knew we were getting a leader who would be good at organizing the base and getting the message out to the American people, and that’s what he’s doing,” Alari said. “He’s our guy.”