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Dean Wins the DNC Primary

State party officials vote to endorse the former presidential candidate to lead Democrats.

February 01, 2005|Ronald Brownstein | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The leading group of state Democratic Party officials on Monday backed Howard Dean's bid for the party's national chairmanship, establishing the former presidential candidate as the contest's prohibitive favorite.

"I think the race is over," Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party, said after the decision.

In a nationwide conference call, the Assn. of State Democratic Chairs voted to endorse Dean. The decision by the group's full membership reversed a recommendation from its executive committee Sunday to endorse Donnie Fowler, a young party strategist.

Fowler finished a distant second to Dean in the membership vote, according to sources familiar with the call.

"This is an important step in our campaign, but we will not stop working until the vote is cast," Dean said in a statement released by the association.

Dean received another boost after the vote when former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, the sole African American who had been seeking to head the Democratic National Committee, withdrew and endorsed him. Five others remain in the race.

The DNC's 447 members will meet in Washington on Feb. 12 to pick their new leader. To win, a candidate needs a majority of the votes cast.

Dean's opponents had been hoping the state chairs' group would back another contender for the DNC post, perhaps triggering endorsements from elected officials and members of organized labor uneasy about the prospect of the former Vermont governor's succeeding outgoing chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Although viewed as a moderate in Vermont, Dean became linked with the party's liberal wing during the 2004 presidential campaign because of his strong opposition to the war in Iraq. His candidacy also was marked by a blunt, outspoken style.

But Democratic insiders said the state chairs' decision probably reduced the odds that the AFL-CIO political committee would endorse a candidate in the race at its meeting in Washington today.

Former Rep. Martin Frost of Texas has been considered the most likely to receive the labor group's nod, if it chooses to endorse.

Monday's vote could increase pressure on some of the remaining DNC candidates to quit the race and push for a single alternative to Dean.

"What this means is if folks who aren't for Dean don't coalesce behind a credible alternative, then he'll win," said an aide to one of his rivals. "But we still have to play that out for a couple of days."

On Sunday, the state chairs' executive committee voted 8 to 6 to recommend an endorsement of Fowler, who served as Al Gore's field director in the 2000 presidential campaign.

But in Monday's conference call, Dean won 56 of the 91 votes cast, according to sources. Fowler attracted 21 and Frost five.

Webb, former Rep. Timothy Roemer of Indiana and Simon Rosenberg, president of the centrist New Democrat Network, won three each.

Also seeking the DNC job is former Ohio party chairman David Leland.

The state chairs' group represents 112 DNC members, including state vice chairs and officials from several territories, who will vote in the race for national chairman.

Dean's support among the group's members stemmed from the view that he would be a strong fundraiser and party spokesman and -- above all -- would help change the DNC after the Democrats' disappointing losses in November, said Linda Honold, the Wisconsin state chair.

"As people looked at what is the job of the national chair, he filled more of the criteria than the others," said Honold, who voted for Dean.

Torres, who also backed Dean, said, "People in the Beltway are finally getting it that a lot of the [party] communities around the country really want change in the DNC."

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