By Jonathan E. Kaplan - 01/18/07 12:00 AM EST
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the new chief election strategist for the House Democrats, welcomed Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean to his office Tuesday for a “jovial” meeting in which the two pledged to work together during the 2008 election cycle.
Such amity contrasts with the contentious relationship between Dean and former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.). They clashed last year over how much money Dean would commit to get-out-the-vote efforts and television advertising campaigns in individual congressional races.
As chairman, Dean centered his efforts on a “50-state strategy” to rebuild neglected state and local Democratic Party organizations, even in places such as Alaska, Nebraska and Alabama where Democrats run poorly. Emanuel, however, wanted to pour as much money as possible into congressional districts with vulnerable Republican candidates. At a meeting in May 2005, the Washington Post reported that Emanuel stormed out of a meeting with Dean amid a flurry of “expletives.”
“I’m not looking in the rearview mirror,” Van Hollen said in an interview last week.
Having picked up 31 House seats, tensions have ebbed and Dean and Van Hollen have an opportunity to forge a new partnership. At 4 o’clock, Dean trekked down one flight of stairs to meet Van Hollen.
After Van Hollen introduced Dean to DCCC staffers, the two men retired to Van Hollen’s office along with the Democratic National Committee’s executive director, Tom McMahon; a top Dean aide, Moses Mercado; and the DCCC’s new executive director, Brian Wolff.
“We had a good meeting,” Van Hollen said of the 40-minute sit-down. “We first talked in general terms about working with one another, coordinat[ing] efforts, maintaining good communication [and] being on the same page.”
Van Hollen and Dean spoke at length about Dean’s decision to hold the national convention in Denver, narrowly lost congressional seats and lessons learned from those races, one of the meeting’s participants said. They also discussed openings Democrats had to win seats in red states last year — such as in Nebraska’s 3rd congressional district — that likely would not exist in 2008 because voter turnout jumps in presidential-election years.
Both agreed that they would remain “on offense,” a principle that has become a centerpiece of Van Hollen’s early tenure. In a memo released last week, he said he would not only seek to protect the newly elected freshman Democrats, but also to expand the number of competitive seats.
They also discussed candidate recruitment.
“They have a lot of shared ideas,” one of the participants said. “[Dean] appreciates what’s happening on the ground and talked about engaging more people in the [recruitment] process.”
The dispute between Dean and Emanuel often is portrayed as an ideological struggle within a party where liberal activists prefer to emphasize organization and turnout efforts to win elections and centrists prefer to focus on message.
But several Democrats said the dispute that plagued the relationship between Dean and Emanuel — who is now on speaking terms with Dean – would not exist in the 2008 election cycle. Unlike 2006, both parties will be running national presidential campaigns in 2008, so there likely will be competitive presidential races in states where there were closely contested congressional and Senate races.
“The conflict is gone because we’re all running in the same cycle … the choice is how to allocate limited resources, not do one or the other,” Van Hollen said.
“Victory is a great aphrodisiac. Rahm Emanuel had to make decisions [on a race-by-race basis]; Dean’s job is to rebuild the national party. They were both right,” newly elected Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who is close to Dean, said.
Still, some House Democratic aides close to Emanuel find working with Dean difficult. In a profile of Emanuel in GQ magazine’s January issue, an unidentified Democratic aide and Emanuel ally said, “[Dean is] so frustrating. I just don’t like him, anyway. I haven’t liked him from the beginning. It’s totally bizarre dealing with him.
She continued, “It’s not just that we only got $2.4 million, but we’re also supposed to not say mean things about Howard Dean. And Rahm’s supposed to act like everything’s wonderful.”