Dems plan to redirect DNC away from presidential race

Congressional leaders and state party officials are insisting that the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) radically redirect the committee’s resources toward congressional races and other local contests and away from the presidential enchilada.
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Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) has been invited to address the Association of State Democratic Chairmen.

In behind-the-scenes positioning, key congressional lawmakers are seeking to prevent the national party from lapsing into another four-year presidential gestation cycle, where the DNC serves as nothing more than an incubator for the party’s ambitions to capture the White House, say leadership aides.

That congressional strategy to deemphasize the presidential race is being paralleled at the state level, where party chairmen are withholding their endorsements and plan to swing their 112 votes in one bloc for a single candidate.

Those party leaders will seek to extract concrete assurances from the eight potential candidates for DNC chairperson who have been invited to address the Association of State Democratic Chairmen (ASDC) on Dec. 11 in Orlando.

Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party and of the ASDC, said that his group, with its 112 members, “represents at least a fourth” of the 447 total votes, “or even a third, if some of the other committee members don’t show.”

“What we’d like to see is much more focus on the state and local parties in every state,” Brewer said.

“I’ve asked the state party chairman state vice chairs to withhold endorsements, and then we will discuss the candidates and make a joint endorsement,” Brewer said.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, New Democrat Network president Simon Rosenberg, strategist Donnie Fowler and telecom executive Leo Hindery have accepted Brewer’s invitation to make opening remarks and then participate in a question-and-answer session in Orlando.

In addition, Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, former White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk have all been invited.

The desire to recalibrate the focus of the committee appears widespread through the Democratic caucus.

“[House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] and others are making it very clear that something has got to change,” a well-placed Democratic leadership aide said.

“It boils down to making the DNC less of a presidential committee,” the staffer added.

In the absence of a clear national figure to dictate the strategy and direction of the DNC, a clutch of congressional factions is seeking to exert influence on the outcome.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) are also demanding that the next chairperson dedicate more time and effort towards reaching out black and Hispanic voters.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) is spearheading the CBC’s effort to win concrete assurances from the next chairman on a range of specific issues. Black lawmakers are unwilling to make public their precise demands, but several said that there are widespread concerns in the caucus on how the DNC and the Kerry campaign executed their minority outreach plan.

“It’s not so much the who but the what,” a key black lawmaker said. “This is all Meeks right now, but others of us will get involved.”

Meeks declined to comment on what sort of specific demands he is making. “It’s best we keep this private for now,” he said.

The CBC and the CHC may join forces in issuing their demands, though a formal alliance has not been established, said lawmakers and aides. Many key Hispanic lawmakers were angered with the DNC’s outreach efforts to Hispanic voters. Several lawmakers said that the DNC needed to produce original Spanish-language content instead of providing translations of English material.

Democratic strategists stressed that the race is still in infancy, noting that no one has officially declared a candidacy.

“All eyes are on Dean’s next move right now. Everyone is waiting on what he is deciding what to do, and that will shape any decision by any candidate,” a prominent Democratic strategist said.

Frost began sounding out his colleagues on becoming the next chairman almost immediately upon Congress’s return for the lame-duck session last month. He presents an intriguing choice for the party, said congressional aides, some of whom were not particularly fond of Frost.

The former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), who lost his seat as a result of Texas redistricting, has contacted nearly every member of the House Democratic leadership team and has been making calls throughout the party caucus, said numerous aides.

“Calls have been made to him, and calls have been made to people and members of the DNC,” said Frost spokeswoman Susan McAvoy.

McAvoy said that “no final decision has been made,” and said she did not know if Frost would be attending the ASDC event in Florida.

Allies of Frost said the former two-time chairman of the DCCC would bring a combination of policy and political skills to the job and create a nexus between issues on the Hill and grassroots fundraising.

Meanwhile, Lanny Davis, former White House counsel to President Clinton, is planning on sending a detailed memo to all DNC members, Democratic governors and Democratic members of Congress this week that will recommend criteria for selecting the next chairperson.

Davis told The Hill that it is essential for the new DNC chairperson to communicate effectively on television and bring state governors and local elected officials to the center of the Democratic Party. Democrats at the local level have done better than party leaders at the national level, he noted.

Davis has not endorsed a candidate. He said the DNC post could be split, with the “chairman of the board” tasked with communicating the Democrats’ message and the “chief executive officer” in charge with running “the nuts and bolts” of the Party.

Bob Cusack contributed to this article.