Steven Grossman, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, focused on the party’s goals for the coming election season in a speech to the College Democrats Tuesday night.
Drawing a crowd of more than 250 students from GW and nearby American University, Grossman spoke for nearly an hour and answered questions from the audience.
Grossman, who has chaired the committee for almost two years and is a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, emphasized the important role grassroots political organizations such as the CDs play in the Democratic Party.
“This party will be built up because individuals will take the responsibility to get personally involved,” he said.
Grossman cited three gubernatorial races last year in which Democrats were outspent five to one. Though the Democrats lost all three elections, Grossman said the close margins in each race were a product of the “college invasion” campaigning of CD organizations.
“Winning the House (of Representatives) is within our reach this year,” Grossman said. “Many political races are decided by only five or 10 thousand votes – those votes are votes that CDs are often responsible for finding, identifying and nurturing.”
Grossman said several times that campaign finance policies must be reformed because the current policies kept voter turnout low in the 1996 election and continue to hold House Republicans at the mercy of special-interest dollars.
He also discussed Democratic successes in the past six years, such as a drop in violent crime, passage of the Balanced Budget Act, high employment rates and a ban on assault weapons.
Looking toward the future, Grossman listed areas of key concern for Democrats, including the passage of a patients’ bill of rights, the strengthening Social Security and continued protection the environment. Education legislation to reduce class sizes and increase student access to the latest technology also rank high on the party’s priority list, he said.
“The core of the Democratic Party is that we won’t rest if one person is left behind,” Grossman said. “We need to broaden, deepen and widen the sphere of opportunity for everyone.”
Grossman shifted the discussion to the scandal surrounding President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern who said she had sexual relations with the president.
Grossman called Clinton’s recent admission of a relationship with Lewinsky “indefensible.”
“I believe that this president and this vice president and the entire Democratic Party continue everyday to offer its compassion . in so many ways,” Grossman said. “That to me is as much an expression of public morality as other activities.”
“Mr. Grossman touched on a lot of key issues here,” said CD Events Chair Andrew Agetstein. “What continues to please us is how much he values the student feedback he gets here.
“This is a man who talks to the president five times a week and he was really listening to us,” Agetstein said.
Grossman has appeared twice in front of a GW CD audience. His speech last fall was moved from the Marvin Center to the Quad after a bomb scare led to the evacuation of the student center.
“Out of adversity came a great evening,” Grossman told the group. “What was most meaningful about last year’s visit here was that I got a chance to hear from you, not just to hear your questions, but to hear your thoughts about the party and how a grassroots political organization can be built.”
The evening concluded with the showing of the CDs’ second annual video, which captures highlights of last year’s activities.
The CDs will participate in five campaign trips to neighboring states this election season, CD president Marc Shaller said.
“This year, our focus is on hands-on activities to get the CDs more involved in the D.C. community,” Shaller said.