Former presidential candidate Howard Dean encouraged the Democratic Party to expand its grassroots organizations before a standing room-only crowd at the Jack Morton Auditorium Wednesday.
Pundits speculated that Dean was planning to use the event as an opportunity to announce his candidacy for the chair of the Democratic National Committee. But the former Vermont governor made no mention of any aspirations during the 25-minute address.
Dean’s speech was part of a major media event sponsored by Democracy for America, the organization that Dean founded in the wake of his failure to win his party’s nomination.
Dean urged members of his party to remain faithful to its ideals despite Sen. John Kerry’s failure to win the presidency. He attributed the Democrats’ loss to ineffective party leadership and a message that was not distinct from that of Republicans.
“We cannot win by being Republican-lite” Dean said. “We’ve tried it. It does not work.”
Dean argued that for Democrats to regain power in Washington, they will need to adopt a message that is palatable to the entire country while articulating traditional Democratic values.
“We cannot be a party that seeks the presidency by running an 18-state campaign,” Dean said, referring to the Democrats’ failure to win in the South and Midwest. “We cannot be a party that cedes a single state, a single district, a single precinct, nor should we cede a single voter.”
Dean also said he refused to believe that the election was decided on the issue of moral values, as some experts have suggested.
He said, “It is a moral value to provide health care. It is a moral value to educate our young people … Democracy is a moral value.”
He said the party needs to build its base from the ground up by putting “Democratic ideas and Democratic candidates in every office – whether it be secretary of state, supervisor of elections, county commissioner or school board member.”
Dean’s speech was well received by the crowd, which frequently interrupted with applause and ovations, but he was mainly playing to a friendly audience. Tickets for the speech were all distributed within minutes of a College Democrats e-mail announcing the event earlier this week. Many GW students who showed up for standby were unable to obtain seats.
Students who attended the speech were receptive to Dean’s ideas, but some said they were disappointed by his failure to announce a bid for DNC chairmanship. Democrats are slated to pick a leader in February.
“I enjoyed seeing him,” freshman Jeff Stomel said. “But I was surprised that he didn’t announce running for the DNC.”
Audience members also included 90 members of local Democracy for America chapters, as well as a group of 12 students from American University.
“I came because I really believe in his mission to build the party from the ground up,” said Maura Keaney, a volunteer for Democracy for America’s Virginia chapter.
Dean ended his speech with a call for action and a trademark line from his presidential campaign.
“Election by election, state by state, precinct by precinct, door by door, vote by vote, we’re going to lift this party up,” Dean said. “And we’re going to take this country back for the people who built it.”