WASHINGTON—Howard Dean won the chairmanship of the national Democratic Party Saturday, vowing to lead a crusade back to power by competing for values-minded voters in "red" Republican states while continuing the blistering criticisms of President Bush that rank and file Democrats love.
"Today will be the beginning of the reemergence of the Democratic Party," the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate said to cheers and applause from party activists and leaders. "We are going to take this country back for the people who built it."
The 447-member Democratic National Committee elected Dean by acclamation, his triumph locked up in recent weeks as he outmaneuvered rivals and forced each to quit the race one by one.
His two-month campaign for the job showcased his skills at motivating and organizing supporters among active and devoted Democrats. That same core group rallied to his presidential campaign in 2003 and propelled him to the early lead in fundraising and support.
Unanswered is whether Dean can find a voice that will appeal to less devoted Democrats or independents. His presidential campaign collapsed when they started paying attention and found Dean either too liberal or abrasive.
Dean, a 56-year-old doctor, brushed aside questions about his style. "I'm not a Zen person," he told reporters after his speech. "I am who I am."
He renewed his pledge not to run for president in 2008, a commitment that would help him remain neutral as a large field of Democrats start angling for the nomination. Among those who could run are Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and both halves of the losing 2004 ticket, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina.
Dean also insisted he would not seek to dictate the party's positions on issues. "I'm not going to get into policy issues," he said. "Most of the policy pronouncements will be coming from the leaders of the Congress."
On issues, Dean has often been to the right or left of many Democrats.
As a governor, he balanced budgets and was supported by the National Rifle Association. Among the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates, he urged the biggest tax increases and the biggest expansion of health care. He also opposed the war in Iraq from the outset.
He lost every primary but the one in his home state.
Democrats on Saturday lauded Dean as a fierce fighter for their side, and said the record and persona that hurt him in a presidential candidate would not matter for a party chairman.
"We need somebody that's a fighter, someone who will fight for this party," said Wellington Webb, a former mayor of Denver and one of Dean's failed rivals for the party job.
Webb praised Dean as "the first one to take on George Bush ... the first to energize the grass roots of our party ... the one who showed us how to raise money on the Internet" and someone who was not "Republican Lite."
Grant Burgoyne, a Democratic National Committee member from Boise, Idaho, said Dean's style would make little difference in red states.
"He's a party functionary," Burgoyne said. "Party functionaries build the infrastructure. We're not the messengers of our party. Candidates are messengers of our party."
Dean, who once told Southerners they should not base their votes on "guns, God and gays," said he would reach out to evangelical Christians.
"There are evangelicals who were involved in our campaign. ... There are evangelicals who consider themselves Democrats," he said. "We will definitely seek to reach out based on the deep moral principles of the Democratic Party to members of the evangelical community."
He also reminded supporters that he will be aggressive in defending the party and attacking Republicans.
Addressing one of his party's enduring political weaknesses, Dean argued that Democrats should assert their credentials on national defense. It was Democrats, he noted, who pushed to create the Department of Homeland Security and overhaul intelligence gathering.
"There is no reason for Democrats to be defensive on national defense," he said.
He also criticized Bush for his recent budget proposal, noting that Democrat Bill Clinton was the only president to balance the budget in nearly 40 years. "Borrow and spend, borrow and spend," he said. "You cannot trust Republicans with your money."
BACKGROUND: Howard Dean, 56, was born in New York City on Nov. 17, 1948. His father was a successful stockbroker.
EDUCATION: B.A., Yale University, 1971. M.D. Albert Einstein College of Medicine 1978.
EARLY CAREER: Volunteering at a New York hospital led Dean to medicine.
He moved to Vermont for medical residency in 1978 and established a medical practice with his wife, also a physician. Dean taught medicine at the University of Vermont and was a founder of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps.
POLITICS: Dean served in the Vermont House of Representatives from 1983-1986. He was Vermont's lieutenant governor from 1986-91 and its governor from 1991-2002.
Dean won just one primary—Vermont's—in his 2003-2004 campaign for the presidency, but showed great organizational skills and ability to raise money at the grassroots level.
For more, go to www.democrats.org
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Howard Dean
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