Howard Dean Defends 50-State Strategy

The Associated Press
Friday, November 17, 2006; 8:26 PM

TETON VILLAGE, Wyo. -- Democratic chairman Howard Dean on Friday took a swipe at Washington critics who questioned his strategy of spending money in all 50 states, dismissing them as the "old Democratic Party."

Basking in the afterglow of last week's election victories, Dean told the state party chairmen who were among the biggest beneficiaries of his strategy that it was an approach marked by Democratic wins at all levels of government.

"It was a great win for what I call the new Democratic Party," Dean said in a speech to the Association of State Democratic Chairs. "This is the new Democratic Party. The old Democratic Party is back there in Washington, sometimes they still complain a little bit."

In recent days, political strategist James Carville, best known for his work on Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992, has assailed Dean, saying he left too much money in the bank that could have been used to seize an even larger Democratic majority in Congress.

In one interview, Carville called Dean's errors "Rumsfeldian," a reference to the Defense secretary. In the past, Rumsfeld has railed about "Old Europe" and its reticence in the leadup to the Iraq war.

"The people who complain always get the headlines," Dean said, adding there are other high-profile Democrats who support his initiative. "But the fact is that this strategy not only works, it works in states Democrats have given up on for 30 years.

"We cannot give up on anybody."

The Association of State Democratic Chairs, gathering at this ski resort getaway, adopted a resolution voicing strong support for Dean, who turned 58 on Friday. The resolution said the state chairmen "honor and thank Governor Dean for his tireless commitment to state Democratic Parties and the '50-state strategy' ... and for never retreating from what was right for every Democrat in every state."

Not only did Democrats reclaim the House and Senate, they increased their control of governorships and legislatures. In January, Democrats will have 28 statehouses to 22 for Republicans. The breakdown of state legislatures are 24 with Democrats in full control, 16 Republican, nine split and one nonpartisan.

Dean said the victory included Republican strongholds that Democratic strategists wrote off. Even where they lost, he argued, Democrats made their best showing in years because of the beefed up state organizations.

"That is what the 50-state strategy is about," Dean said.

State party chairmen who receive their checks from the Democratic National Committee clearly took Dean's side.

"I don't think Mr. Carville knows what he's talking about," said Richard Stallings, the Idaho party chairman. "Democrats haven't been winning on the kind of stuff Carville is talking about. The 50-state strategy is the future."

The state chairmen and vice chairmen were key to Dean's successful campaign to become national chairman in 2005, giving him the votes he needed to trump critics from inside the Beltway, where he is not a favorite of the party's established powerbrokers.

The strategy worked, the state chairmen said, who hailed Democrats' victories not only in Congress, but in state legislatures and all the way down to county commissions.

"So when the James Carvilles of the world question the money given to state parties, I have to wonder why," said Mike Gierau, the Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman.

Dean was undeterred by the Washington criticism.

"We are going to do the 50-state strategy for the next 150 years so we can be the dominant party power in this country again," he said. "You can't be the powerful party in this country who controls the government unless you are willing to let the people control you. And the only way you can do that is ask everybody for their vote, understand everybody is our boss even if they vote for you or not."

© 2006 The Associated Press