Howard Dean, still campaigning

By Tim Grieve
Published February 11, 2005 9:29PM (EST)

Howard Dean just spoke to the Women's Caucus at the DNC Winter Meeting, where he said that the party needs to do a better job communicating its core beliefs, especially on moral issues like abortion. "Lord," he said. "Family values? How could we possibly lose on that?"

"It's not what we believe that has caused us to lose," Dean said. "It's the way we talk about what we believe." Dean said that Democrats have a "great story to tell" but haven't done a good job telling it. On abortion, for example, he said that the number of abortions declined during the Clinton administration but has risen during the Bush administration. Yet Democrats, he said, get branded with an unfair "pro-abortion" label.

"We're not pro-abortion," Dean said. "I don't know anybody who is pro-abortion. But what we do believe is that women can make up their own minds about what kind of healthcare they want."

Dean also said that Democrats should remind voters that they're "people of faith," too. That brought a loud round of cheers from the Women's Caucus and more than a few "amens" as well. But Dean also revealed his limitations on this point, quoting randomly from the Bible in a way that suggested it was something he'd read rather than something he'd studied like, say, George W. Bush.

Although Dean has the DNC chairmanship locked up, he's still in campaign mode as he travels from caucus to caucus to caucus today -- or at least in the campaign mode that Dean has adopted for the DNC race. There's no rumpled shirt-sleeves, and there's not a huge amount of emotion. Instead, at each caucus appearance, Dean speaks softly and asks for help a lot. Dean asked the women -- as he's asking all of the caucuses today -- to help him work on the Democrats' message and then to help him communicate it to voters in their home states.

Dean said that John Kerry lost in 2004 in part because the Democratic Party flooded Florida and Ohio with out-of-state volunteers, volunteers the Republicans matched person-for-person with locally based supporters. He said the party needs to do better at building home-grown support throughout the country, and then use that support to sell the party to skeptical voters. "The way you win presidential races is getting your neighbor to run for the school board," he said.

Although Dean is businesslike in his presentations, there's still a spark of the old hardcore Howard here and there He questioned, in passing, whether Bush actually won Florida in 2004, saying that Kerry "supposedly lost Florida -- if the voting machines didn't eat up all the votes." And trying to summarize a long question asked by an audience member at the Women's Caucus, Dean said, "She's asking why the Republicans get to talk about moral values when they don't have any."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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