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DNC, Governors Asked to Carry Party Message

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean met privately with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday to discuss strategy over the likely showdown regarding President Bush’s controversial judicial nominees.

While the “nuclear” option was the main point of the conversation, the two Democratic leaders also discussed longer-term legislative and political goals, aides familiar with the meeting said.

Meeting with Congressional leaders has become a regular ritual for Dean, who is barnstorming the country to help rebuild a political party still reeling from the November elections.

Congressional leaders are looking to Dean as well as to Democratic governors to help them carry the party’s message beyond the Beltway over the next two years in an attempt to counter the power of the White House bully pulpit.

“We face a president who has a huge megaphone here,” said Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.). “We can have our own opportunities on the floors of the House and the Senate to try and fight some of these battles, but it is really important for us to try and engage these Democratic governors.”

The decision to empower various arms of the party comes as Democrats seek to regroup heading into the 2006 elections. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he spoke with Dean on Wednesday about efforts to rebuild the party state by state.

“I think the DNC, as well as Democrats here, are working to formulate a clear, precise message for our party, which we are still in the midst of working on,” Durbin said. “There is a relationship between Howard Dean and the leaders in the Senate about what each state needs.”

The comity between Dean and Congressional Democratic leaders comes several months after the former Vermont governor successfully ran a campaign for DNC chairman without the support of the party’s Congressional leadership.

Steve McMahon, the DNC executive director, said Dean and Congressional Democratic leaders “have got a great relationship,” noting the chairman regularly speaks with both Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

On an operational level, Congressional Democratic leadership aides talk with DNC staffers regularly and convene weekly meetings. McMahon said this is in addition to the DNC’s effort to engage local Democrats in helping promote the party’s policy and political goals.

“We are going to reach down and communicate with every Democratic official both on the state and local level to help deliver the Democratic message,” McMahon said.

Republicans, though, dismissed the Democratic efforts, suggesting it is the outside interest groups that are influencing the direction of the party.

“I have noticed the liberal, extreme special interest groups for the Democrats driving the Democratic message ever since the election ended,” said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “They lost at the ballot boxes and they are trying to now get done what they could not accomplish [in November], which is to try and derail President Bush’s agenda.”

Democrats contend that their party is winning the message war on GOP efforts to retool the Social Security system and the Republican threat to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominees. But they acknowledge that a critical test will happen this week when the nuclear option is addressed.

Already, Senate Democratic leaders have enlisted the DNC in helping to facilitate a campaign against the proposal to eliminate the filibuster for judges.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was the featured speaker last week on a conference call with Democratic activists organized by the DNC. This week, Reid will participate in a similar call.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “We need to work together and we are. We are doing a much better job.”

The DSCC is also planning on working with the Democratic Governors’ Association and DNC on several 2006 political campaigns.

“We are looking out to 2006 at those Senate races that are going to affect the gubernatorial races,” said Penny Lee, who began work on Monday as the new DGA executive director.

Specifically, the DGA and DSCC are likely to coordinate, where it is allowable under law, on races where a governor and Senator are running for re-election. Michigan and Pennsylvania are two states Democratic officials are reviewing, Lee said.

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