Democratic Leaders Question Whether Dean's Right on the Money

By Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza
Sunday, March 5, 2006

Democratic congressional leaders aren't happy with the way Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is spending money. At a private meeting last month, they let him know.

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) challenged the former Vermont governor during a session in Pelosi's office, according to Democratic sources. The leaders complained about Dean's priorities -- funding organizers for state parties in strongly Republican states such as Mississippi -- rather than targeting states with crucial races this fall.

Neither side was willing to give ground, according to several accounts of the meeting. Dean argued that his strategy is designed to rebuild the party across the country, and that he had pledged to do so when he ran for party chairman. Reid and Pelosi countered that if Democrats squander their opportunities this year, longer-term organizing efforts will not matter much.

Democratic congressional leaders are particularly worried because the Republican National Committee holds a huge financial advantage over the DNC. One congressional Democrat complained that Dean has -- at an alarming rate -- burned through the money the DNC raised, and that Republicans may be able to swamp Democrats in close races with an infusion of RNC money.

In its most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, the DNC reported raising $50.1 million so far in the 2005-2006 cycle and had $5.8 million cash on hand at the end of last year. The RNC had raised $103 million and had $34 million cash on hand.

Dean has won friends among state party leaders for his efforts to underwrite the hiring of organizers in states where Republicans have been winning in presidential races. Dean campaigned for the DNC chairmanship by pledging to make Democrats competitive in all 50 states, not just in the 16 to 18 presidential battlegrounds. One congressional Democrat responded: "Nobody's suggesting they do 16 states, but not all states are equal."

Pelosi was particularly insistent in pressing Dean to keep focused on 2006, but Dean is reluctant to give congressional colleagues anything approaching a blank check, preferring to stay on the course he began a year ago.

Money Talks for Kerry

The prospect of a second presidential bid for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) sometimes draws chortling -- or even mockery -- from many Democratic Party insiders. But Kerry's fundraising ability, especially over the Internet, is ensuring that he remains a serious presence on the national political stage.

The most recent example is an e-mail Kerry sent from his political action committee, Keeping America's Promise. It asked donors to contribute to three Iraq war veterans running for Congress as Democrats: Tammy Duckworth in Illinois' 6th District, Patrick Murphy in Pennsylvania's 8th District and Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania's 7th District.

"You and I both know how Rove-style Republicans treat veterans who speak the truth," Kerry wrote. "I know something firsthand about the Swift Boat-style Republican attack ads of the last election -- but you don't have to take my word for it. Just ask John McCain. Ask Max Cleland. Ask Jack Murtha."

As of Friday, Kerry's appeal had raised about $300,000 for the three candidates, Kerry advisers said. The 2004 nominee followed up his first e-mail with a second appeal late last week -- this one seeking to raise campaign cash for Tim Walz, who is running for Minnesota's 1st District seat, and Jay Fawcett, the only Democrat seeking the seat of retiring Rep. Joel Hefley (R) in Colorado's 5th District. It brought in $52,000 in its first four hours.

Kerry has raised more than $1 million for Democratic candidates over the Internet in the past six months, according to calculations made by his aides.

During his 2004 bid for president, Kerry raised more than $80 million via the Internet, and in the process compiled an e-mail list of 3 million names. Should Kerry decide to run again, his Internet fundraising capability will be key. If he takes a pass, he becomes a major power broker by deciding which candidate can use (or buy) the list.

Massachusetts Surprise

Speaking of Bay State politics, Republicans' chances of holding the seat being vacated by Gov. Mitt Romney, who is planning a possible bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, suffered a blow when an independent candidate entered the race.

Christy Mihos -- a successful businessman and former Republican -- made his candidacy formal last week, a move that could divert votes from Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, the Republican who is also seeking to replace Romney.

Healey has spent much of her time of late distancing herself from her former ticket mate on controversial social issues. Romney, with an eye on the conservative electorate in the GOP primaries and caucuses, has said he would have signed a South Dakota bill that would ban abortions except when a woman's life is directly threatened. At a candidates forum after Romney's comments, Healey described herself as "extremely pro-choice."

Rejoining Hillary Clinton

Capricia Marshall, who oversaw posh presidential parties and the first lady's wardrobe as White House social secretary during the Clinton administration, has joined Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's reelection committee as finance director. Along with a big team of fundraisers, Marshall will work for Friends of Hillary, whose $17 million on hand far outstrips other 2006 Senate candidates. She'll also raise funds for HILLPAC, Clinton's political action committee.

Marshall, who holds a degree from Case Western Reserve University, was the first lady's top assistant for five years. She recently served as a consultant to ABC's "Commander in Chief."

Researcher Zachary A. Goldfarb contributed to this report.

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