One was a snazzy dresser, a major African-American force who thrived on the Washington social circuit. The other is a buttoneddown white Vermonter, an excitable but nerdy med school kind of guy. But there's something about the similarities between the late Democratic National Committee Chairman Ron Brown and current DNC boss, Howard Dean, that has folks talking--even Dean. "My model is Ron Brown," he says flatly. Don't laugh. Sure, their personalities and styles are radically different, but party insiders and friends of both say Dean has attacked his job of reforming the party just as Brown did--with similarly winning results.
Some examples: Both entered the job as outsiders under fire from moderates who worried that they were too liberal. Both surprised the establishment by raising tons of money. Both took a shattered party and built a national organization geared to winning a presidential election. "He was incredibly inclusive, and he was an outsider, of course," Dean says," so I identify with him that way." And both focused on the key Democratic demographic-- blacks. Brown brought African-Americans to the table. Dean, who's studied Tracey Brown's bio of her dad, wants more: putting more blacks on the ballot. "It's going to be about opportunities and a place on the ticket," says Dean. "Ron Brown was really the beginning of that."