Howard Dean accepts the party leadership. The former presidential candidate did not hesitate to criticize President Bush.
EVAN VUCCI / AP Enlarge
WASHINGTON - Beaming in delight but vocally subdued, Howard Dean won the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee by acclamation yesterday and immediately began criticizing President Bush.
Five days after Mr. Bush presented his $2.57 trillion budget for fiscal year 2006, Mr. Dean scoffed at it, saying it "brings Enron-style accounting to the nation's capital, and it demonstrates once again what Americans, all Americans, are now beginning to see: You cannot trust Republicans with your money."
With six potential rivals for the job of party spokesman having bowed out of the race, Mr. Dean had no opposition. Lifting his eyebrows in his trademark look of glee, he told the Democrats: "If you'd told me a year ago I'd be standing here doing this as your choice for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, I would not have believed you, and neither would have a lot of other people."
A medical doctor, former governor of Vermont, and 2004 presidential candidate who sprang to national prominence but won no primaries, Mr. Dean was kidded about not letting out a yell after his victory yesterday. He had drawn ridicule from many for shouting himself hoarse when he lost the Iowa primary a year ago while vowing to keep running.
Wellington Webb, mayor of Denver and a vice chairman of the party, said, "A lot has been made of Howard's voice and on occasion he raises it. ... But he also listens."
Insisting he is not a "Zen person," Mr. Dean said he was not consciously changing his style, but he also no longer will talk about many of the policy issues that he raised all last year.
For example, he would not talk about Iraq, even though his opposition to the war helped bring him to the public's attention. As party chairman, he said he will not make policy but will leave that to the elected members of Congress.
But he did say that yesterday marked the beginning of the "re-emergence" of the Democratic Party, saying he will work on grass-roots organizing so that the party never again writes off some "red" states (that voted Republican) on the assumption they can't be won.
As outgoing chairman Terry McAuliffe bequeathed Mr. Dean the gavel, he also gave him a brief financial report. The party has no debt with what Mr. McAuliffe called "millions" of dollars in the bank - although he did not specify a figure - plus a new headquarters that is paid for and a new database with millions of voters' names and e-mail addresses.
Four years ago, the party was $18 million in debt and had no database. "Never again will money be a crutch for this party," Mr. McAuliffe told reporters over lunch this last week, noting he had raised more money than the Republican Party. "The money problem is now solved for our party forever."
Mr. Dean stressed Democrats will stress fiscal responsibility and noted that the first Democrat to have a balanced budget was Andrew Jackson and the last was former President Bill Clinton.
"Not one Republican president has balanced the budget in 40 years," Mr. Dean said.
He convinced many skeptical Democrats that as a northeasterner with a reputation as a social liberal that he should have the job because he raised millions of dollars for his candidacy last year through the Internet. The physician-turned-politican has also pledged not to run for president in 2008 and to remain neutral when the field of Democratic candidates emerges.
As the party's chief fund-raiser and cheerleader, Mr. Dean said he intends to "rebuild" the party by giving the grass roots more say and by strengthening state party organizations. He noted that in 2006, 38 governors will be up for re-election and vowed to work to win those races. But his first test will be the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia this year.
A number of delegates at the Democratic meeting said rightly or wrongly, Mr. Dean's first report card will be based on how those races turn out.
Uncertain of how much money he will have on hand, Mr. Dean is asking for a new budget and finance committee as part of the overall Democratic National Committee.
The DNC also voted yesterday to establish a committee on military and veterans' affairs in an effort to chip away at the advantage the Democrats think Mr. Bush has on national security issues.
Mr. McAuliffe said he was "excited" to stop traveling full time and return home to his five young children, and he warned Mr. Dean that he will be spending most of his time living out of a suitcase.
Mr. Dean said that his wife, Judy, a physician who was in the audience cheering him yesterday, will keep her practice in Vermont and that he will go back and forth from Washington and their home in Burlington. They have two children.
Contact Ann McFeatters at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-662-7071.