Campaign

Dean drifts behind in DNC race

DENVER - Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's slow start to the campaign to be the next Democratic National Committee chairman may doom any chance he has at reclaiming his post atop the national party.

Dean entered the race with significant advantages: He is still widely praised by Democrats for his "50 state strategy" as the head of the DNC in the 2000s and is credited with laying the groundwork for then-Sen. Barack Obama's presidential run.

But Dean has struggled to gain traction this second time around amid a cascade of early endorsements for Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a rising star in the party.

Many who have not endorsed Ellison are waiting to see who else might get into the race.

One source told The Hill that President Obama and Vice President Biden have asked Labor Secretary Tom Perez to enter the race, and other liberals are eager to see NARAL President Ilyse Hogue take the plunge.

And while Dean was the first candidate to formally jump into the race, he has not shown a willingness to fight for the position.

"This is not something I'm going to push people out of the way for," he said on MSNBC in mid-November.

A spokesperson for Dean declined to comment or push back on the premise of this story.

Dean will skip the Association of State Democratic Chairs forum here this week, which represents the first opportunity for DNC candidates to make their pitch to the state party leaders that will be critical in deciding who becomes the next chair.

He will send in a video, while three other announced candidates - Ellison, New Hampshire Chairman Raymond Buckley and South Carolina Chairman Jaime Harrison - are slated to appear in person to make their case and jockey for endorsements.

Dean's absence is striking, as the ASDC helped put him over the top in his 2004 bid for DNC chairman by voting for him in their straw poll.

The revelation that Dean, who ran for president in 2004, would not personally be on hand came as news to some of those at the conference.

"That feels like a slight," said Terry Tucker, a Colorado DNC official who supports Ellison. "It feels like he's trying to run on past accomplishments."

Dean's name was also conspicuously absent from a letter AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent to members for a vote on who the labor giant should endorse. Trumka said he'd been approached by all of the announced candidates except for Dean.

Only Ellison's name will appear on the AFL-CIO ballot, making it likely that the Minnesota congressman adds another hugely influential endorsement to his already substantial list of backers.

And Utah Democratic Chairman Peter Corroon told The Hill that he has spoken with Ellison on the phone but has not received a call from Dean, who is his first cousin.

That same story was relayed to The Hill by several DNC chairs and party members, who say they aren't seeing the same kind of intense lobbying effort from Dean that other candidates are waging behind the scenes.

Most have only heard from Dean through occasional private email exchanges or an email that announced his bid back in November.

Ellison, meanwhile, is hounding DNC officials to get them to back his bid. He and his staff are calling DNC members regularly to ask for their support or set up introductory meetings.

"I haven't heard from Howard Dean or really anyone besides Keith Ellison," said Colorado DNC member Michael Hamrick, who says he is undecided but leaning toward Ellison.

"I had a phone call with Keith and he was the headline speaker for local county party earlier this year in Arapahoe, so he was out here and gave a great speech. Then he's reached out through phone calls and emails. Nothing against anyone else, because I have a lot of respect for Howard Dean, but maybe it's time for some fresh ideas."

No DNC members interviewed by The Hill said they oppose Dean outright.

He is beloved in liberal circles and his "50 state strategy" as head of the DNC is viewed by many as the gold standard and the way forward for state and local Democrats who feel the national party ignored them during Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's (D-Fla.) tenure.

Indeed, the platform Ellison announced on Thursday draws heavily from Dean's work as chairman from 2005 to 2009.

"We must energize Democratic activists across the country and give them the tools to build the Party from the bottom-up," Ellison said. "Beyond a 50-state strategy, we need a 3,143-county strategy.

"DNC members are on the front lines in these states and counties and we must harness their experience and give them a meaningful voice as we set the direction for the Party."

While the message is similar, the messenger is new - a realization that Dean is grappling with in public.

"Our party and the country as a whole - the baby boomers have to get out of the way. That's my generation. I'm happy to advise. I don't think we need to be in the forefront anymore," Dean said this week on MSNBC.

His comments came during a discussion about Rep. Tim Ryan's (D-Ohio) challenge to longtime House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who secured another term as party leader despite dozens of defections following a disappointing election cycle for Democrats.

"I love Nancy Pelosi. In my view she's the most effective Speaker since Tip O'Neill. She's going to win this because she's done - she's raised money," Dean continued on MSNBC before the vote.

"We need somebody from the next generation to be in charge of everything. Not just on the Democratic side but Republican side to empower this very generation that we're talking about."

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