"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Bill Clinton's A Convert To Dean's 50-State Project
March 31, 2006

Will Howard Dean's Democratic National Committee be ready for the November elections? Party leaders and congressional campaign strategists are nervously pressuring Dean to stop spending money to staff organizers in states and instead commit to transfer the bulk of the DNC's kitty to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

At a tense meeting in February, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid urged Dean to give to the Senate committee the same amount as the Republican National Committee was expected to transfer to the GOP's Senate committee. Reid argued that the DSCC's historically rare fundraising advantage could be wiped out with a single check from RNC chairman Ken Mehlman. If Republicans shuffled their cash, Reid said, the outcome of several critical Senate races might be jeopardized.

According to three sources familiar with the meeting, Dean said no. Of course, he said, the DNC will spend millions on the midterms. His argument was this: While the DSCC and DCCC's role is rightfully incumbent protection, Dean, on the other hand, was elected chair to tend to overall health of the party. And that includes his responsibility to hundreds of non-federal candidates as well. His investment in state parties, Dean promised Reid and House Min. Leader Nancy Pelosi, would pay off and the benefits would accrue to Democrats at all levels.

Though the DNC has raised a record amount of hard money for an off-year cycle, it trails the RNC by several car lengths. Overall, the GOP will have more to spend on its races in the fall as the DNC has sent much of its money to state counterparts. (It's not as if the money is going into a hole. The DNC organizers are using it to find new voters and to update voter files and prepare coordinated campaigns for 2006.)

Both Dean's admirers and his critics blame the money gap on the priorities of major donors, who are race-and-cycle centric. And Dean, in the words of one of his friends, "never sucks up to donors" and is "clinical" when he discusses politics with them.

A new DNC hire -- finance director Carl Chidlow -- was brought aboard to help bridge the two cultures. Chidlow was deputy finance director for Sen. John Kerry's record-setting presidential bid and considered one of the party's best professional fundraisers.

A friend says Chidlow decided to accept Dean's job offer after finding evidence that Dean truly was committed to competing everywhere. One of Chidlow's prime tasks today: to evangelize Dean's state-based efforts to major donors.

And Dean has one supremely important new ally who, when he goes public, will almost certainly help with donors. In late February, Dean traveled to Harlem and sat down with former President Bill Clinton, often said to be privately disparaging of Dean.

But as Dean walked Clinton through his 50-state capacity-building project, Clinton became a convert. He vowed to help Dean win the attention of donors. [MARC AMBINDER]

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