Dean Urges Appeal to Moral Values

"People want us to fight," Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said at the DNC executive committee meeting in Washington yesterday. (By Kevin Wolf -- Associated Press)
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 12, 2005

Unrepentant after a week of controversy over his inflammatory remarks, Democratic Chairman Howard Dean told party leaders yesterday that casting traditionally liberal issues in moral terms is a key to breaking Republicans' eight-year hold on the White House.

Dean acknowledged that he sees his party's national campaign apparatus as being "30 years behind" the one fielded in November by the Bush-Cheney campaign, and said the solution is for Democrats to be tough, describe themselves boldly and get organized in all 50 states.

"People want us to fight, and we are here to fight," Dean said during a quarterly meeting of the party's 64-member executive committee. "We are not going to lie down in front of the Republican machine anymore."

Dean's aides said he now realizes he needs to choose his words more carefully but plans to keep the pressure on Republicans.

Several key Democrats had said early last week that Dean should resign but concluded by week's end that there was no viable movement to oust him. Dean yesterday embraced his reputation for volatility, saying he is being buoyed by activists and donors. At one point, Chicago alderman Joseph A. Moore had trouble getting recognized and joked that next time he would "jump up and down."

"That's my job!" Dean said, and the room shook with applause.

The Democratic National Committee's lead pollster, Cornell Belcher, said that religious people who have been stymied economically represent a huge opportunity for the party, and that the challenge is to portray moral values as "not just gay marriage and abortion."

It amounted to a call for the party to reclaim Reagan Democrats, the blue-collar social conservatives who have voted largely Republican for the past 20 years. In a possible future play for President Bush's voters, the party announced the creation of a Veterans and Military Families Council.

The party, determined to compete in what Dean called "the Mississippis and the Kansases," has vowed to put paid organizers with four-year commitments in every state, and is starting a monthly donation program for small givers.

Dean and the pollster provided the most specific blueprint yet for a party where a multitude of factions and potential candidates are competing to point the way back from Sen. John F. Kerry's (D-Mass.) loss to Bush, 19 states to 31 states. "We have not spoken about moral values in this party for a long time," Dean said. "The truth is, we're Democrats because of our moral values. It's a moral value to make sure that kids don't go to bed hungry at night. . . . It is a moral value not to go out on golf trips paid for by lobbyists."

Belcher, the pollster, said the emphasis that many voters placed on moral values in November is "not a call to move to the right." He said that a lot of what he called "faith voters" -- those for whom religion plays an equal or more important role in determining their vote than conventional issues such as education -- "are up for grabs." He said those voters can be reached by acknowledging their fears about raising their children.

Strategists for both presidential campaigns detected a late shift to Bush by lower-income voters who were concerned about terrorism and values. Matthew Dowd, former chief strategist for Bush-Cheney, said these voters "decided they were voting in the national interest rather than their self interest on both the economy and national security."

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