It's deja vu all over again for Howard Dean -- or is it?
The traveling road show that is the race to lead the Democratic Party pulled into Sacramento Saturday, where the seven men running for the DNC chairmanship lobbied members of the DNC's Western Caucus. Former Tex. Rep. Martin Frost and Democratic strategists Simon Rosenberg and Donnie Fowler, Jr., all had their moments. But just as he was in the early days of the presidential race, Howard Dean is plainly the man to beat.
The 447 members of the DNC will elect a new chairman in Washington on Feb. 12. Dean doesn't have a majority of those members locked up yet, but Team Dean insists that it's got as many supporters in its pocket now as all of the other candidates combined.
For Dean's supporters, the attraction is obvious. In the words of Carole Migden, a California state senator and DNC member, Dean is both a "star" and a "fellow traveler." If Saturday's proceedings were any indication, no one else offers that two-for-one deal. Dean needed no introduction, and his progressive Democratic bona fides are so well established that he was free to spend much of Saturday promising financial and logistical support to long-suffering state parties. Everyone else in the race had to spend time addressing one or another shortfall. Rosenberg, Frost and Fowler were still introducing themselves and explaining why they thought they were qualified to lead the DNC, while former 9/11 Commissioner and Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer spent much of his day acknowledging that his views on social issues -- he's pro-life -- are different than most Democrats'.
Roemer's low moment came in a question-and-answer session when he was asked to say, specifically, what he had done to help end discrimination against the lesbian and gay community. The crowd, a Dean-friendly Northern California audience, laughed with derision -- and that was before Roemer answered. When Roemer spoke, he wasn't able to identify any specific steps he'd taken to end discrimination. The best he could offer: He'd hired a gay chief of staff and some other gay staffers while serving in Congress.
Roemer's staff knows that "the landscape" isn't particularly hospitable for him, and another candidate, former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Leland, seems out of his league in this field. The question, then, is whether establishment Democrats worried about Dean will converge behind an Anti-Dean -- and if so, whom. Rosenberg, Fowler, Frost or even former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb could still emerge, like a latter-day John Kerry, as the darling of an ABD movement.
But it hasn't happened yet, and Dean's people say they're optimistic that it won't. While warning that the "dark forces" are still out there, the Dean advisor told us Saturday that he's confident Dean is the second choice of a lot of DNC members who are currently backing other candidates, meaning that even if Dean can't win a majority on the first vote next month, he would be well positioned to win the chairmanship on a second or third ballot.