State party leaders backed Howard Dean yesterday in his bid to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee, putting the former presidential candidate in strong position to win the election in about two weeks.
Wellington Webb, a former mayor of Denver, dropped out of the chairman's race after the endorsement and then backed Dean. Webb aide Cindy Brovski said, "Mathematically, it looks like Dean is going to win on the first ballot."
The Association of State Democratic Chairs endorsed Dean during a national conference call. Dean got 56 votes, followed by Democratic activist Donnie Fowler with 21 votes. Other candidates received votes in the single digits. The state chairs ignored a recommendation made Sunday by the executive committee to back Fowler.
"If all of our members vote for him, that will be half of what he needs to win the chairman's job," said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, who noted that the total membership of chairmen and vice chairmen is 112. "We're asking all of our state chairs and vice chairs to follow our endorsements. And we think they will."
The state chairmen endorsed Dean because they thought he was best suited to help the state and local parties rebuild, Brewer said.
Dean revolutionized Democratic politics in the 2004 presidential campaign through his use of the Internet and his skills at fund-raising, organizing, and energizing new voters.
"Strengthening the state parties is a central part of our plan to make the Democratic Party competitive in every race, in every district, in every state and territory," Dean said. "If elected DNC chair, we will make this vision a reality."
Dean already had more than 50 endorsements of DNC members, including five chairmen. He needs a majority of the 447 members to win the post. The election is scheduled for Feb. 12.
Some in the party have said Dean's outspoken, blunt comments and his image as a liberal politician would hurt the party in conservative states in the South and Midwest. As Dean's campaign gained ground, however, Democratic resistance seemed to fade.
Last week, longtime activist Harold Ickes said he would back Dean and commented that the former Vermont governor had more of the attributes needed to run the party than any of the others.
If organized labor backs a single candidate other than Dean, the race could be revitalized. But Democrats watching that situation have said it is unclear whether the AFL-CIO will endorse a single candidate. About two dozen members of the union's executive committee are slated to meet today and discuss whether to make an endorsement.
Former representative Martin Frost of Texas has been counting heavily on labor support to gain strength against Dean. Fowler, 37, was field director for Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000 and is the son of former DNC chairman Donald Fowler of South Carolina.
Dean had already received the backing of state party chairmen in Vermont, Washington, Florida, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. He also has the backing of dozens of other DNC members.
Six candidates are now in the running for the chairman's job: Dean, Fowler, Frost, Democratic activist Simon Rosenberg, former representative Tim Roemer of Indiana, and David Leland, a former Ohio party chairman.