CBC Backing Flows to Dean

Posted November 19, 2003 at 6:17pm

A pair of endorsements from two of the most prominent leaders within the Congressional Black Caucus seem likely to put to rest talk that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) catastrophically wounded his presidential campaign with comments regarding the Confederate flag.

Dean received the endorsement of CBC Vice Chairwoman Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) on Tuesday as they campaigned through her Houston-area district. CBC Chairman Elijah Cummings (Md.) appeared at a fundraiser Monday for Dean in Baltimore and attended Dean’s birthday celebration in Washington, D.C., that night. He has not yet officially endorsed Dean but is expected to do so within days.

“Governor Dean has been talking about race and race relations from the very beginning of this campaign,” said Dean spokesman Jay Carson. “His passion for healing the racial divide is clearly resonating.”

Lee, who emphasized her endorsement did not signal an official CBC position, said she had first talked to Dean at a black mayors event in Houston in February.

“Many would have bypassed that event,” she said. “Howard Dean was willing to come and spend time.”

Donna Brazile, campaign manager for the 2000 presidential effort of then-Vice President Al Gore and a Roll Call contributing writer, said, “Dean’s appeal to Democratic base voters, as well as potential swing voters, has moved members of the CBC to support his candidacy.”

The endorsements “will give Dean instant credibility with black voters and help his campaign build inroads for the primaries,” Brazile predicted.

Dean’s latest endorsements are added to the backing of black Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.) and Major Owens (N.Y.) and come on the heels of the former governor securing the support of the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — a major political coup. Dean also received the endorsement of Rep. Jim Moran (Va.) Monday.

Carson called SEIU the “most diverse union in the country,” and Brazile said the decision of the two unions to endorse Dean gave him a major boost in the eyes of black Members.

“Labor and African-American leaders have a strong alliance,” she said.

Although Dean’s four CBC endorsements are matched by Sen. John Edwards’ (N.C.) total, the former governor clearly has the momentum within the organization.

The remaining CBC power brokers are divided among the other presidential candidates, with New York Rep. Charlie Rangel supporting Gen. Wesley Clark and South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn seen as likely to back Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.).

More than half of the organization’s 39 Members remain undecided and intentionally held back their endorsements until after the two CBC-sponsored presidential debates in Baltimore and Detroit that took place earlier this fall.

Dean’s success in wooing the CBC stands in direct contrast to a prediction made by Rep. William Lacy Clay (Mo.) — a Gephardt supporter — that any members of the organization who had considered signing on with the former governor “will be running away from him now” in the wake of Dean’s comment that he wanted to be a “candidate for guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks.”

Dean has since apologized for the symbol he chose, but not the substance of his remarks.

“Most people understood what Governor Dean was trying to say, which is, ‘We need to have a discussion about this painful subject or we are never going to get to a point where we heal the racial divide,’” said Carson.

Lee said that Dean “held his ground but listened to the pain and great sensitivity and emotion” the comment caused.

She added that Dean “doesn’t fail” to admit he “made a mistake in the use of that language” in his stump speech.

Dean has overcome any concerns about his candidacy by paying significant personal attention to the CBC members, according to a senior adviser to one.

“Of all the candidates running he has been the most consistent in communicating with phone calls, letters and correspondence and reacting to things our members may do,” the adviser said.

The source noted two examples where Dean’s attention to activities by CBCers has distinguished him from the other eight candidates in the field.

In June, the CBC issued a tribute to Shoshana Johnson, a soldier in Iraq and the first black woman ever held as a prisoner of war.

Dean sent a letter supporting the group’s effort, saying it was “a great thing to do,” the source said. Staff for other candidates contacted the CBC on the issue, but only Dean called in person.

In September, Dean called Virgin Islands Del. Donna Christian-Christensen to endorse her minority health bill and issued a release to that effect.

“He said that when he became president he would seek to work with members of the caucus to pass it,” the adviser said.

As a result, Dean has “created a personal relationship that transcends politics. … It’s not rocket science,” the CBC source said.