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Dean's advocacy group debuts

MONTPELIER -- The initials DFA are those of his high-flying presidential campaign, but Howard Dean's new advocacy group will recruit like-minded candidates seeking lower-tier offices as well as promote the election of Democratic candidate John F. Kerry.

Dean, the former Vermont governor who had led in polls for the party's nomination before delegate elections began, is hoping to prove to the political establishment that he retains some of the power he once enjoyed with the legions of followers who helped him raise record amounts of campaign money.

Supporters say the new organization, Democracy For America, will help return political power to the community level.

Dean has been seeking to build excitement among those supporters with a promise to announce today his plans "about the future grass-roots campaign built from the principles of Dean for America," the former presidential campaign said in a posting to its own weblog. "We will show solidarity in our continued campaign to take back the core of power in American politics from back rooms and special interests to a political ethos based in, and built from, community."

Rallies are planned in Seattle and San Francisco today, a month to the day Dean dropped out of the presidential race without winning a contest in spite of spending six months as the Democrat with the most money, endorsements, and momentum. A third rally is planned tomorrow in New York. Dean won one primary, his home state's, after he dropped out.

The new organization will play a role in helping Kerry win the presidency in November. Democracy For America also will seek to influence the Democratic Party in much the way that conservatives helped to reshape the Republican Party more than 20 years ago.

In the past week, Dean contacted his supporters via e-mail and asked them to contribute to Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.'s re-election campaign. Jackson, an Illinois Democrat, was an early and strong supporter of Dean's presidential bid.

Dean believes he can help raise money for important congressional races by asking for donations from the more than 600,000 people who signed up for his campaign via his website. When he was leading in the presidential contest, he successfully did that for an Iowa congressman who had not even endorsed him.

Democratic leaders hope that Dean can and will do the same thing to help Kerry raise money. The question is whether he'll turn over the list of names and e-mail addresses his campaign gathered.

Some of his aides have said they are researching the legalities, including how the list would be viewed by federal elections regulators. It could be considered valuable enough that it would exceed campaign contribution limits. Putting a value on it could be difficult.

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