The most influential coalition within the Democratic Party will bring its annual convention to the Valley this spring, recognizing recent party gains in Arizona and the state’s possible impact on the presidential election.
Gov. Janet Napolitano will host the Democratic Leadership Council on May 7-8 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix. More than 500 state and local elected officials who call themselves New Democrats will be on hand, officials announced Monday during a news conference at the state Capitol.
The council was established in 1985 to push the national party toward the center and shed the label of “liberal” that President Ronald Reagan and other Republicans used effectively as a political weapon against their opponents.
Several founding members of the council had White House aspirations, including then-Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt. But the council soared in prominence with the 1992 election of Bill Clinton over incumbent President George H.W. Bush. Clinton had been the council’s top leader and its message shaped his agenda.
Council officials will come to the Valley looking to repeat some of that 1992 magic for another member and the presumptive Democrat nominee, U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
“We’re hoping again to discuss the ideas and strategies that will drive another President Bush into early retirement,” said group CEO Al From.
From said he couldn’t comment on which top Democratic leaders will attend the annual meeting, which the council calls the “National Conversation.”
Napolitano silently nodded “yes” behind From when he was asked if council leaders want Kerry to join them.
Arizona will be the first Western state to host the meeting, a choice that reflects how Clinton won here in 1996 despite the state’s reputation for GOP dominance. Both the Bush and Kerry campaigns consider Arizona to be one of 18 swing states likely to determine who wins Nov. 2, according to the Washington Post.
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said he has been a Democratic Leadership Council member for years because the coalition looks for practical solutions and has turned away from debates of “right” vs. “left.”
Napolitano said Monday the group’s political statements represent where the Democratic Party must stand to attract Arizona voters.
“They are very much about rejecting the old and incorporating some of the new,” Napolitano said. “If you look at a part of our party over the past decade or so . . . a lot of the ideas that now are taken as standard Democrat ideas really came out of the DLC.”
From acknowledged the convention also serves to promote the council’s clout by showcasing officials who share its principles.