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Howard Dean: Democrats Need to Develop Book Sense
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA, Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 2/21/2005

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Republicans are rewriting the book on how to win presidential elections. And the Democrats are not only reading that book, they are trying to apply the lessons.

“We learned that we don’t have the kind of grassroots organizations that they do. We brought a lot of people in from the states. But they had people in their own communities knocking on doors. That’s what we want to do,” says Howard Dean, former Democratic presidential candidate and new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “They have people talking to people, for example, in their churches. It had more success than bringing people in from other states. In the rural areas, it’s much more effective when someone that you know talks to you. So, we’re looking to create grassroots organizations in the community. And in the African-American community, a lot of the grassroots organizations already exist.”

The Democrats lost the November elections – expanding the GOP stranglehold in the House and the Senate - because Republican operatives beat them at their own game of grassroots organizing, says Dean, who replaced Terry McAuliffe this month as the party’s chairman. Republicans have maintained control of the House for 12 consecutive years and now hold a 232-201 majority. They currently hold a 55-44 advantage in the Senate, with one independent.

In Ohio, Republicans outmaneuvered Democrats by mobilizing the rural vote to offset Democratic majorities in big cities. In addition, the GOP benefited from Blacks going to the polls to support a Republican-led referendum to prohibit same-sex marriage.

Approximately 90,000 Blacks or 16 percent of the Black population supported Bush. If that group alone had voted for Democrat John Kerry, that would have been enough for Kerry to claim victory in a state that ultimately decided the outcome of the election.

If Democrats are to be successful in 2008, they must improve their grassroot organizing efforts.

The grassroots strategy was actually mastered by Jesse Jackson Sr.’s Rainbow Coalition for his 1984 and 1988 quests for the Democratic presidential nomination. By forming grassroots Rainbow chapters and connecting with existing organizations, Jackson created enough momentum to win 1,200 delegates in 1988 and to get Blacks elected to local and state offices.

“There was a very interesting increase in Black elected officials, a very interesting increase that hasn’t been repeated since then,” says University of Maryland Political Scientist Ron Walters. “That came from a mobilization affect. The highest turnouts in the Black community have been when we have a movement effect. You have a lot of emotion in the turn-out.”

Dean says one problem is that the Democrats lose momentum between elections.

“They sometimes get disconnected from the Democratic Party. We get them revved up every four years, but we need to have them revved up during school board elections, mayoral elections. We don’t get quite involved in those elections,” he says.

Many African-Americans feel that Democrats take them for granted.
The Black vote for Bill Clinton in 1992 and in 1996 was about 83 percent. In the Bush-Gore election in 2000, Blacks supported Gore with 90 percent of their vote. In November, Blacks supported Kerry with 88 percent of their votes. Blacks have voted more than 80 percent for Democratic presidential candidates over the past 30 years,

“I think it remains to be seen, the extent to which Blacks will become leaders, at least at this iteration of the party,” says University of Missouri political scientist K. C. Morrison. He points to the late Democratic Party Chairman Ron Brown as the last example of significant Black power at the DNC. “We haven’t achieved that level of leadership since then,” he says. “The party is in a desperate situation in trying to find a way out of its minority situation. We should expect to have a greater role and greater presence.”

Former campaign manager for Jackson, the late Brown made history in 1989 when he became the first African-American chosen to lead a major U.S. political party. He served in the role from 1989 through 1992, when President Clinton appointed him secretary of commerce. Brown led the Democrats to victory after three consecutive presidential defeats.

Dean says greater Black inclusion in Democratic leadership must begin with diversity within the DNC itself.

“My thought is on how to fully integrate on every level. The way we’ll deal with that is the same way that we deal with diversity at the DNC,” he says. “When you put people in charge of operations at the DNC who are people of color, then you’ll have a much better likelihood that people [of color] will be hired.”

DNC spokeswoman Daniella Gibbs says that of the five vice chairs under Dean, one is an African-American, one Hispanic-American, and one Asian American. The other two are White, including a White Jewish woman, she says.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tara Wall declined to give the racial makeup of the Republican National Committee leadership.
According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Blacks made up 20.1 percent of the Democratic Convention delegates last year. They made up 6.7 percent of the Republican delegates.

Although approximately 56 percent of Blacks live in southern states, the Democrats lost that region. Dean has the delicate task of solidifying Black support in the South while appealing to Whites, many of whom have defected to the GOP.

“When you look at this region of the South in the last presidential election, [it] was something that the Democratic Party did not include in its strategy,” says Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation a non-profit, non-partisan group of more than 80 organizations, which encourages civic activism in the Black community. “They had a 17-battleground strategy. And in order to win elections, in order for this democracy to be strong, I don’t think that’s a good strategy. I think the strategy for any camp, Republicans or whoever, is to try to reach all people.”

She continues, “I think with any party, the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, or the Green Party, their goal is to win elections. And so if they’re not winning the presidential elections, then they look at what their strategy is.”

Dean says he will work to clarify the Democratic position on key issues.

“They look at us and say we’re the pro-abortion party. But we’re not the pro-abortion party; we’re the party that will allow women to make up their own minds. And those, I think, are the appropriate words,” Dean says. “As far as gay marriages, we’re not the gay marriage party. My views on gay marriage and gay rights are the same as [Vice President] Dick Cheney’s. And so, we can’t just allow ourselves to be tainted. And they did it and we didn’t defend ourselves.”

The Republicans were able to increase the Black vote by 2 percent largely by connecting with Black churches, especially on the issue of gay marriage.

Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton, among Dean’s biggest critics during the campaign, says he believes Dean will be good for the party.

“His election is good in the sense that he’s not a regular Democratic establishment figure and he has the organization to galvanize the grassroots in the race,” Sharpton says.

He also agrees that the party leadership needs more diversity.

“They must show Blacks and Latinos that we’re not going to be cut out, but cut in. But, they also need to put real issues on the table,” Sharpton says. “We must go from rhetoric to reality if you want a grassroots movement.”

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