WASHINGTON - Democrats elected Howard Dean chairman of their national party on Saturday, casting their lot with a skilled fund-raiser and organizer whose sometimes caustic, blunt comments can lead to controversy.
The 447-member Democratic National Committee chose Dean on a voice vote to replace outgoing party chief Terry McAuliffe. The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate had promised to rebuild the state parties, take the offensive against Republicans, and better explain party positions on issues.
Democrats are eager to renew their campaign to regain political power, though some admit to a bit of anxiety. President Bush just won his second term. Republicans are firmly in control of the House and the Senate. And the GOP is gaining strength in conservative states in the South and West.
"We only have one way to go, and that's up," Georgia delegate Lonnie Platt said.
For Joyce Cusack, a Florida delegate, it's time for Democrats to embrace their party's values.
"We are trying so hard to be like Republicans and we're not. I think Howard Dean says clearly that we are different," Cusack said. "We are the party of ordinary citizens and not the elite, we are everyday working folk."
Democratic leaders, who were initially wary of a Dean chairmanship, started embracing his leadership after it became apparent he was strong enough to claim the job. Several high-profile Democrats considering a bid for chairman backed out of the race.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, not always a Dean supporter, said Friday, "He has used the power of technology, the force of his personality and the depth of his ideals to bring new people into the party."
Dean told Democratic committee members Friday that it's important to learn to be more comfortable discussing the party's core values.
"The way I hope to deal with that problem, is not to abandon our core principles, but talk about them in a different way," he said.
Democrats are not pro-abortion, but "we are the party in favor of allowing women to make up their own minds about their health care," Dean, a physician, said.
Democrats are not for gay marriage, but "we are the party that has always believed in equal rights under the law for all people," he said.
"We are the party of moral values," Dean said. "There is nothing moral about cutting 300 million dollars that is used to feed starving children."