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The Fix Talks Back About Pa., Howard Dean and Dems' Agenda

The Fix took questions in the Post Politics Hour Web chat earlier today. Read the transcript here.

Below are my answers to a few questions that I didn't have time for during the chat.

Boise, Idaho: Honestly, do you think Howard Dean is or is not a liability for the Democrats?

Chris Cillizza: You are poking a hornet's nest with that questions. As I have written before -- both on The Fix and in The Post -- there are elements of the party establishment that continue to be unhappy with Dean's 50-state strategy and the financial impact that has had on the Democratic National Committee. Dean ran for chairman on a pledge to put field organizers on the ground in all 50 states, a feat the committee has now accomplished.

The problem with staffing up in every state is that there are considerable salary costs tied to it. The result is that the DNC's burn rate has been much higher than that of the Republican National Committee. As of the end of January, the DNC had raised $61 million this cycle compared to $119 million for the RNC. The DNC had $6.9 million on hand at that time; the RNC had $39 million. That means the DNC has spent 88.5 percent of the dollars it has raised while the RNC had spent 67 percent of its total raised.

Establishment Democrats worry that the financial disparity will allow the RNC to spend heavily in 2006 congressional races while the DNC is incapable of matching it. As for those who point out that Dean's DNC has raised more money than the DNC has ever done before in the hard money era, that is true. But, so has the RNC. And the RNC, not the DNC of 2004, is who Dean is competing against.

Remember that Dean was never a part of the party establishment before he ran for chairman of the party, so some resistance among "insiders" is to be expected. And he also seems committed to running the DNC in a way that has not been done before, which will draw further friction with old-time institutionalists.

Washington, D.C.: How does Swann-Rendell affect Santorum-Casey?

Chris Cillizza: This is one I have been grappling with for months. Democrats believe that with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) now in a real race against Lynn Swann (R), Rendell will ramp up his Philadelphia turnout machine, a move that should benefit state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. who got walloped by the governor in the Philly area during their 2002 primary race. Republicans retort that turnout in Philadelphia won't be any higher than it was during the 2004 presidential race. Democrats insist that with Rendell threatened, his loyalists will turn out even more voters than they did last cycle. That remains to be seen, but I don't see how a competitive race for Rendell can hurt Casey.

On the other hand, Swann is a legendary figure in and around Pittsburgh -- an area Sen. Rick Santorum (R) represented during his time in the House. Swann may bring out first-time voters attracted to his Pittsburgh Steeler credentials who could also decide to go with Santorum.

In other words, you can argue it both ways.

Chicago: There's word that the Democrats are holding off presenting a "Contract With America"-like proposal to the American people. Why don't they just come out right NOW and say what they think makes the Dems different from the GOP's "Culture of Corruption"?

Chris Cillizza: The concern among Democratic strategists is that rolling out a series of policy proposals right now would give Republicans and the national media ample time to poke holes in it between now and the election. Given the current budget situation, it's likely that any new proposal by Democrats would involved rolling back some of the Bush tax cuts, a strategy that would immediately be derided by Republicans as a proposal to increase taxes.

Democrats are also quick to note that the vaunted "Contract With America" did not go public until September 1994 -- just two months before the tidal wave election that delivered Republicans majorities in the House and Senate.

I think the delay in releasing a Democratic agenda reflects an internal divide between those who believe the party needs to show voters that they are for something and those who think simply being viewed as the alternative to President Bush and congressional Republicans is enough to make major gains in the midterms.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 8, 2006; 2:19 PM ET
Categories:  Fix Notes  
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