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Published: Monday, 10/6/2003

Dem hopefuls woo party at national meeting


WASHINGTON - The 10 Democratic presidential candidates met in the nation's capital over the weekend for the Democratic National Committee's fall meeting, at which they did their best to impress hundreds of the party's faithful who came eager to be wooed, won over, and take their chosen candidate's message back home to their states.

“George Bush has just done a fabulous job of energizing the Democratic Party,” said Janice Brunson, DNC national committeeman from Arizona. “The party is marching as one.”

Many Democratic National Committee members came with favorites - retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry were the top choice for many attendees - but there was love for all the candidates who marched onto the stage Friday and Saturday.

Mr. Dean, the leader in key primary states, peddled his trademark brashness about the failures of the Democratic Party, apparently unfazed by the fact that he was speaking to the party's fiercest defenders.

Mr. Clark, the newest entrant in the race, tried to reassure his new party brethren that his votes for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in their successful presidential bids shouldn't raise questions about his loyalty to Democrats.

“It's never a happy sight to see someone lose a job, unless one guy losing a job means millions of people can find jobs,” he said. “And I know just the guy. His office is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”

As they filtered out Saturday, many Democrats said the field was far stronger than expected and they were more confused than when they arrived.

Several Southern members said they thought Mr. Clark and Mr. Edwards were gaining the most momentum in the South because they are more moderate, centrist Democrats.

But many from across the country lean toward Mr.Clark or Mr. Dean, with a number saying Mr. Kerry is another favorite.

Denise King, a Dean supporter and vice chairman of the New York state Democratic Party, said Mr. Dean recently drew 1,500 to a meeting in her county. “He's building the party for us,” she said. But several former supporters said they switched to Mr. Clark because they believe he can win, even though some are concerned about party allegiance.

Others left uncommitted, like South Carolina state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg, who said she intends to stay that way for a while.

“My bottom line,” she said, “is that I will support whoever can beat Bush. My priority is getting rid of him.” With that, she seemed to have touched on a party platform plank that all attendees could agree on.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Maeve Reston is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

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