Thursday, May 11, 2006

Democrats Are Fractured Over Strategy, Funds

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 11, 2006; Page A01

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.


The problem is that they are both right. The question for Dems is which is more important now winning the upcoming congressional election or building a national party that can win in 2008 and beyond. Dean's strategy will eventually pay off as Georgia could very well become a swing state due to mass migration from the north and the west coast due to continued job growth and lower housing prices. Additionally companies such as carpet mills and food processing plants in rural areas have been legally importing labor from Mexico to replace retiring workers whose kids went off to college rather than work in the factories.

One thing is for sure though, the Dems need to quit squabbling and get a concrete game plan if they hope to pull off an upset this November. If they can ever figure out how to become competitive with the Republicans in the fund raising game the GOP would have cause for concern. But I don't see that happening any election year soon.

*update* Looks like GA is predicted to be swing state in 2008 according to the Washington Times. Its nice to be proven right. Hat tip to Donkelphant