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Dean Defends the 50-State Strategy

Borrowing a page from his goal-oriented fundraising during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination (who can forget the bat?), Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean launched a two-week cash-collection campaign, Wednesday, aimed at answering critics of his 50-state strategy.

"For most of us the 50-state strategy seems pretty obvious: a truly national party must build the infrastructure to fight everywhere for every level of office, period," Dean writes in an e-mail to Democrats nationwide. "The Republicans realized this over 30 years ago and have a monopoly on our government because of it."

To send a message to the party establishment, Dean says he hopes to receive 5,000 donations in support of the 50-state stategy over the next 14 days: "Now is the time to get the word out: we have a choice to build a new Democratic party and a new way of doing business, and it's up to ordinary Democrats to stand up and be counted to make it happen."

Dean has run into considerable pushback from party leaders in Washington -- particularly from the chairmen of the House and Senate campaign committees -- for his commitment to put field staff and dollars in every state rather than stockpiling funds to be used on the handful of targeted contests on the ballot this November.

Asked today about grassroots organizing and turnout for the midterms, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) said "that is one thing the DNC is doing, helping us with get out the vote in some of our key states."

In his e-mail missive, Dean acknowledges his detractors before shooting them down. "Some critics say that our early investments in a permanent ground operation will hurt our chances to win this year," Dean writes. "That's a false choice. The fact is that our 50-state strategy has already laid a nationwide foundation for victory this year, in 2008 and beyond."

Under Dean, the DNC has surpassed all previous fundraising records but has burned through a considerable number of those donations. At the end of April, Dean's DNC had collected $79.5 million for this campaign cycle but had just $9.5 million left in the bank. By contrast, the Republican National Committee had raised $151 million by that time and had $44.7 million left to spend.

Some Democratic strategists fear that the RNC's cash advantage will allow them to play an outsized role in House, Senate and governors races this fall by transferring huge sums to party committees that Democrats will be unable to match. A gross spending disparity could limit Democratic gains despite the advantageous national environment, they add.

Dean insists that the construction of a national party infrastructure will counteract the Republicans' money advantage. "Our work now will have a huge impact in November -- the difference is that unlike spending everything on TV ads that literally evaporate after Election Day, our operation will keep growing."

Who's right? We should start to get a sense after Labor Day when the RNC begins to bring its fundraising might to bear on key contests. How close can Dean's DNC come to matching those donations? And, if they can't equal the RNC's deep pockets, will the focus on investing early in grassroots organizing pay off at the ballot box? That's a question for which we won't know the answer until November 7.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 14, 2006; 4:45 PM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party  
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