Democrats Are Fractured Over Strategy, Funds

By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 11, 2006

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and the leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have clashed angrily in recent days in a dispute about how the party should spend its money in advance of this fall's midterm elections.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who is leading the party's effort to regain majority status in the House, stormed out of Dean's office several days ago leaving a trail of expletives, according to Democrats familiar with the session.

The blowup highlights a long-standing tension that has pitted Democratic congressional leaders, who are focused on their best opportunities for electoral gains this fall, against Dean and many state party chairmen, who believe that the party needs to be rebuilt from the ground up -- even in states that have traditionally been Republican strongholds.

Emanuel's fury, Democratic officials said, was over his concern that Dean's DNC is spending its money too freely and too early in the election cycle -- a "burn rate" that some strategists fear will leave the party unable to help candidates compete on equal terms with Republicans this fall.

Emanuel declined to talk about his meeting with Dean but was blunt about his concern that the DNC is not managing its resources wisely.

"This is a historic opportunity, and we can't squander it," Emanuel said.

Although Dean has proved to be a more impressive fundraiser than some skeptical Democrats once thought -- the DNC has taken in $74 million since the start of this election cycle in 2005 -- he has also been a prolific spender. Disclosure forms for the first quarter of this year showed the party with about $10 million in cash on hand. The Republican National Committee, by contrast, has raised just under $142 million this cycle and has about $43 million on hand.

Many Washington Democrats think Dean is unwise to spend on field organizers and other staff in states where House and Senate candidates have little chance of winning. Dean has maintained that the party cannot strengthen itself over the long haul unless it competes everywhere.

At a recent breakfast meeting with reporters, Dean said he has crafted a long-term business plan "and we are going to execute it." He also said, "We need to be a national party again, and I think we have to run on a message that can appeal to people in Alabama as well as it can appeal to people in New York." He declined to be interviewed for this article.

Emanuel, a recreational ballet dancer with the vocabulary of a longshoreman, has for 15 years fashioned a reputation as one of Washington's most aggressive figures -- first as an operative on Capitol Hill and in the Clinton White House, and after 2002 as a representative from Chicago. He was joined during the Dean confrontation by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Schumer, Democratic sources said, did not join in Emanuel's eruption but does share his concerns about DNC resources.

"The cash on hand is not what we'd like," Schumer told reporters yesterday. "The amount of money he has raised is good."

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