Dean: Party Needs to Unify Around Obama

The DNC chair said the Democratic Party will have no money problems this year with Obama on the ticket.

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Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean says the party has no money concerns going into the general election campaign but has some work to do to unify its members around presumed nominee Barack Obama.

"Fundraising is not a worry at all," he told reporters at a breakfast briefing today. "Unity requires work."

But Dean became irritated when pressed about Obama's expected decision to forgo public financing for his White House run. If he does, he would become the first Democrat in a general election to do so. Early in the campaign, Obama pledged to participate in public financing if his GOP rival did the same; McCain has said he will. (Dean and the late Texas Gov. John Connally both opted out of public financing when they competed in presidential primaries.)

"Senator Obama has not made that decision yet," Dean said. But he launched a pre-emptive defense in the event the Illinois senator turns down public money, saying that Obama has a base of "small donors—3 million people"—and no money from lobbyists or political action committees.

When asked the difference between large amounts of money donated by employees of defense contractors, for example, and money from a defense contractor's PAC, Dean accused reporters of looking for a "whiff of hypocrisy."

"The difference is not in the amount," he said. "The difference is who's giving the check. The source matters."

On party unity, Dean said that leaders have begun to coalesce around the presumed nominee and mentioned a conference call yesterday with top supporters of both Obama and Hillary Clinton. Unity will take time, he said, recalling that when he lost the party's nomination in 2004 it took him three weeks to recover and took his followers more than three months to get on board with nominee John Kerry.

Dean, who sharply criticized conservatives for what he characterized as their "scorched earth" approach to Democrats, declined to answer a score of questions and deferred to Obama on issues ranging from what roles Hillary and former President Bill Clinton may play at the convention, to whether the party will make significant changes in its primary calendar and rules after this year's tumultuous contest. "Who is going to do what at the convention is entirely up to the nominee," he said. And: "I don't write the platform. Senator Obama writes the platform."

Dean on other issues:

  • DNC fundraisers will be open to reporters, he said, following the Obama campaign's lead. And he said he expects to provide a public schedule of those events.
  • He is "not embarrassed" by the Bush impeachment efforts of Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Robert Wexler. But, Dean said, the American people "hired us in 2006" to "do something positive. They didn't send us to impeach the president."
  • He supports continuing the party's practice of awarding state primary delegates proportionally and does not believe it should move to a winner-take-all model similar to that of the GOP.
  • He accused Republicans of "planting" a newspaper story critical of former Fannie Mae chief Jim Johnson, who is heading Obama's vice president search, for home loans he received from Countrywide Financial. Countrywide was a key lender in the subprime mortgage crisis. Dean defended Johnson as an unpaid volunteer.