Eight candidates vying to lead the Democratic Party called yesterday for the party to compete aggressively in all states, even those that routinely vote Republican in presidential...

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Eight candidates vying to lead the Democratic Party called yesterday for the party to compete aggressively in all states, even those that routinely vote Republican in presidential races.

Kicking off their campaigns to replace Terry McAuliffe as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the eight candidates — all men — spoke to a convention of state party chairmen and chairwomen. A successor to McAuliffe will be elected in February.

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The comments by the eight echoed numerous state party officials who complained that the national party and the John Kerry presidential campaign focused too much time and money on fewer than 20 battleground states while ignoring the rest.

All eight vowed to work more closely with state party organizations and send more campaign money to the states. Most also promised to shun Washington-based advice in favor of listening more to Democrats from around the country.

“We cannot have a message that comes from Washington consultants,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the best known of the candidates. He noted that his political group, Democracy for America, supported Democrats who won in such places as Alabama by talking about core issues such as jobs and health care. “If you don’t run, you can’t win,” Dean said. “We need a 50 state strategy, not an 18-state strategy.”

Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said the party needs to expand its base, particularly in conservative states. In West Virginia, he said, Democrats have to find a way to talk to voters chiefly concerned with “guns, gays and God.” In North Carolina, he said, Democrats yearn for a message “where you can be progressive and still be Southern.”

Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk said Republicans have done a better job at building a message around simple themes — low taxes, small government and strong national defense. Democrats should do the same, he said, rallying around the themes of keeping America safe, building the strongest economy possible, and making sure “everybody gets to play.”

Other candidates addressing the group were Donnie Fowler, a South Carolina strategist whose father once chaired the national party; recently defeated Rep. Martin Frost of Texas; former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard; party strategist Harold Ickes; and centrist Democrat Simon Rosenberg.

In addition to making speeches, the candidates courted support with receptions, hallway conversations and gifts. Dean handed out cans of maple syrup and coupons for free Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Noting the meeting’s location near Disney World, Blanchard joked, “This is a theme park for Democratic politicians.”