Howard Dean, reaching out

By Tim Grieve

Published February 12, 2005 7:41PM (EST)

Howard Dean was elected by acclamation today, and it's hard to find a DNC member who will admit to being anything but overjoyed about the party's new chairman. Even party insiders who tried to sink Dean's campaign have come out for him in the last few days, praising his grassroots politics and vowing their enthusiastic support.

But that doesn't mean there aren't rifts to heal and work to be done. Dean started that process in a press conference just after he gave his acceptance speech. In recent weeks, the Democrats' leaders in Congress have bristled at the thought that Dean might knock them out of the limelight or take their party farther left than they'd like. Dean met with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid earlier this week. Their meeting was perfunctory, we're told, but Dean showed today that he'll at least make noises about being solicitous.

Asked about the Iraq elections, Dean said that his views aren't all that important anymore. "My positions on Iraq are well known," he said. "But I'm not going to get into any policy discussion on it." He said there was no need for him to offer his opinion about matters on which he won't have a vote. The proper place for that discussion, he said, is in "the Congress and the Democratic leadership in Congress."

Dean will also have to work to win over the support of skeptical Democrats in the South and the Midwest who fear that his chairmanship will make it even harder for them to appeal to centrist voters. He said he'll start that process almost immediately. "I'll pretty much be living in red states in the South and West for quite a while," he said.

Dean said that Democrats can't make progress in more conservative states until they start talking to voters one-on-one. "It is going to take a lot of work, and I'm going to be asking for a lot from all of you," Dean told Democrats in his acceptance speech. "We can't run 18-state presidential campaigns and expect to win. We have a strategy for every state and territory, and it's very simple: Show up. People will vote for Democrats in Texas and Utah and West Virginia if we knock on their doors, introduce ourselves, and tell them what we believe. That's what organization allows us to do."

When Democrats start those conversations, Dean said, they'll begin the work of framing the political debate on their own terms. "We frame the issues," Dean said. "The Republicans will not tell America what the Democratic agenda is. We will do that."

Tim Grieve

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

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