Dean’s organization may play key role in Democrats’ future

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(Host) The defeat of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is causing Democrats to reflect on the future of their party. Howard Dean’s organization, “Democracy for America,” is expected to play an important role in that discussion.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The phones are constantly ringing these days at the Burlington headquarters of Democracy for America. DFA is the organization that Howard Dean founded after he dropped out of the presidential race last winter.

The goal of the group is to create a grassroots effort to help elect people to local and state office who share Dean’s vision of revitalizing the Democratic Party by promoting universal health care, fiscal responsibility and investment in childhood programs. DFA raised several million dollars for dozens of candidates who ran this year and about one-third of these candidates were elected.

When Dean was a presidential candidate he vowed to represent “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” It was theme that struck a chord with many party activists. Now as national Democrats ponder their future, DFA director Tom McMahon expects the organization will play a key role in these discussions:

(McMahon) “What we’ve seen in probably the last 48 hours is our Web traffic has tripled, contributions are once again coming in and I think people are kind of liking the election successes we were able to accomplish in this election cycle – even when the Democrats did not perform well in the different states.”

(Kinzel) Democrats are debating how to gain support in the so-called “Red states” – those states where President Bush enjoys broad support. McMahon says DFA has a successful track record in some of those states:

(McMahon) “We believe that the Democratic Party needs to take a stronger stand in some of the traditional red states and that’s what we’ve adopted and that’s what we’ve done and we had some successes in the election cycle. There’s a woman named Anita Kelly who ran for circuit judge in Alabama and she upset a Republican incumbent – that’s one of the few bright spots the Alabama Democratic Party had.”

(Kinzel) Some national Democrats want to pursue policies that will attempt to change their fortunes overnight. McMahon doesn’t think that this is the approach to take:

(McMahon) “What we’re really focusing on is looking at candidates for state and local races, going out and recruiting them, going out and training them. People who can get involved in these campaigns and kind of really building a future talent pool for the Democratic Party so that four to six years down the line they can run for federal office. We really believe you’ve got to rebuild the Democratic Party from the bottom up.”

(Kinzel) McMahon expects that Dean will publicly address many of these issues in coming months.

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

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