Dean goes to heart of GOP
In his first visit to the state since becoming Democratic chairman, Howard Dean visits Collier County.
By ADAM C. SMITH
Published April 19, 2005
NAPLES - You seldom see big name Democrats campaigning in Collier County.
Why bother, many politicians reason, when Republicans always win big in this conservative stronghold, where fewer than one-in-four voters are Democrats?
It's time to change that, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean told nearly 500 southwest Florida Democrats on Monday night.
"The first rule in winning is to show up - show up, say who you are, say what you stand for," he declared.
Remember Howard Dean, the Internet-fueled presidential campaign phenomenon? The Iowa screamer?
If it seems the blunt-talking doctor and former Vermont governor hasn't had much to say lately, that's because he has been keeping his head low and spending a lot of time in Republican strongholds like Kansas, Mississippi and Collier County.
Two months after his election as national party boss, he is starting to speak up.
He was back in the national news again this weekend after vowing to make sure voters in 2006 and 2008 won't forget how Republican leaders intervened in the case of Terri Schiavo.
"It's a character issue and a values issue. The Republicans are willing to reach into our personal lives at any moment," Dean told the St. Petersburg Times , dismissing the notion that the controversy would fade with time.
"There is a deep scar on the American psyche," he said. "This is a great tragedy for the American people and I think the behavior of the governor (Jeb Bush) and the president and the senator (Mel Martinez) is something that will long be remembered."
Making his first Florida appearance since becoming chairman, Dean chose Collier partly because it helped underscore his priorities for building the Democratic party.
It also helped that Collier Democratic chairman Chuck Mohlke and state party chairman Scott Maddox helped Dean with the national chairmanship by throwing Florida's endorsement to Dean.
Dean touts a 50-state strategy aimed at energizing grass roots organizing efforts even in overwhelmingly Republican states.
He is also determined to help combat Republican suggestions that Democrats are out the mainstream, and intends to develop a simple, overriding definition of Democrat.
"We need a message where people from the Panhandle or Alabama are just as comfortable running as a Democrat as somebody from New York," said Dean, arguing that whether it's balancing budgets or improving access to children's health care, Democrats are more in tune with most Americans than Republicans.
"We need to kick the money changers out of the temple and restore moral values to America," Dean said, drawing roars from the crowd.
State Republican Party spokesman Joseph Agostini accused Dean of politicizing the Schiavo controversy and promoting "hate-filled speech" and negativity, rather than solutions.
"The Democrat party is continuing to swerve out of the mainstream of America, and under the leadership of its out-of-the-mainstream national chairman, continues along that high-speed travel to political irrelevance," Agostini said.
Although Bush won Collier County with an overwhelming 65 percent of the vote, Mohlke said the county can serve as a strong example to Democrats because strong local organization enabled John Kerry to outperform Democratic registration and chip into Bush's overall statewide margin.
"We had thousands of people from all over America come to Florida to knock on doors. But the Republicans had thousands of people all over Florida knock on their neighbors' doors, and that's more effective," Dean said.
Collier Democrats sold more than 450 $100 tickets to their annual party fundraiser, which also attracted Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa, a candidate for governor, and state chairman Maddox, who is expected to announce his bid for the governorship early next month.
"We have settled for far too long as Democrats. We will never, ever win running as Republican light," Maddox said in what sounded like a potential stump speech in a primary contest between him, Davis and state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua.
Davis promised to fight for Florida's schools and seniors and take on special interests.
"I will stand up and fight this remarkably out-of-control and out of touch Florida Legislature," he said.
--Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified April 19, 2005, 06:06:04]
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