Dean’s first week at the DNC

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(Host) Howard Dean is completing his first week as the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Dean is pledging to provide new financial resources for state party committees as part of his overall plan to rebuild the party from the grassroots up. And he hopes to implement a plan that the Republicans have used for years.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Dean’s first week on the job stirred up several political controversies. The Republican chairman in New York State compared Dean to a lawyer who represented terrorists. Dean called for an immediate apology; he didn’t get it.

Then Republicans jumped on Dean for comments he made concerning the GOP’s inability to attract more African American voters. Speaking to the Democratic African American caucus, Dean looked around the meeting and asked if anyone thought the Republicans could get as many minorities in one room. He answered his own question by saying, “only if they had the hotel staff in there.”

By mid-week, Dean took off on a swing to the West coast. He plans to travel all over the country visiting with local party officials. Dean’s pledged to send $50 million to the state organizations over the next four years:

(Dean) “We’re going to put on the payroll – as the Republican National Committee does – the executive director, the finance director and two grassroots organizers in every single state. So when campaigns do come along, we won’t have to import all kinds of experts to basically tell us how to run our campaigns in our state, which we’re much more familiar with than they are. And that really is what the Republicans have done that we haven’t done.”

(Kinzel) Dean also admires the grassroots organizational strategies used by the Republicans:

(Dean) “And the difference was pretty simple. We had 14,000 people in Ohio from Indiana, from Illinois and all over the country. They had 14,000 people in Ohio, from Ohio, who were knocking on their neighbors’ doors and talking to them. And you know very well that in a rural state it’s much easier to respond to somebody who’s your next door neighbor than it is to somebody from a different state that might be far away.”

(Kinzel) Will Dean have a hard time deferring on policy issues to the Party’s congressional leaders? He says no.

(Dean) “On the day to day stuff, people who are in Congress are in a much better position, for example, to have an opinion on whether we should have a definite timetable for getting out of Iraq. For example, Senator Kennedy has said we should and other Democratic senators have said we shouldn’t. There’s no need for me to get into a fight like that. The things I have to do on message issues are the big issues: Social Security, the horrendous mess that the budget is in. I’m not going to try to weigh in and upstage the congressional folks. All I’m going to try to do is make sure that we all are on the same message, so we have a national message going forward.”

(Kinzel) At the end of the week, the DNC said that Dean’s election has definitely increased public interest in the party., which is the DNC’s online organization, says the number of daily visitors to their site has jumped 120 percent since Dean was elected.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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