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Where's the Plan, Democrats? | The Nation

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Where's the Plan, Democrats?

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"There's frustration inside the Beltway because I want to do things differently," Dean says. "But if we don't do things differently we'll be extinct as a party." Dean stressed that while Emanuel and the DSCC's Chuck Schumer must focus on '06, he's planning long-term. Dean's grassroots supporters say Emanuel and Schumer never respected Dean in the first place. But like it or not, Dean will be judged on how the party performs in this mid-term election.

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Ari Berman
Ari Berman
Ari Berman, a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation...

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Party leaders like Emanuel worry that the DNC's effort will be too little, too late--and wonder whether Democrats are doing enough to win the game on the ground. "I think Dean has a plan to rebuild the party in red states," says one labor leader. "I'm not sure that's a plan for '06." As Karl Rove himself said before the '02 elections, "A massive effort to turn out voters is not a casual undertaking and can't be thrown together at the last moment."

The DNC's McMahon says the short-term GOTV plan is already being executed and will be "refined" throughout the summer. The DNC points to what it has done already. On April 29 Democrats knocked on 1 million doors as part of a nationwide door-to-door canvass, the first test of their 50 State Strategy and new field organizers. Similar GOTV activities are planned for July 29 (100 days before election day) and September. Meanwhile, the new field staffers have already made an impact in long-neglected states like Indiana, which has three competitive Congressional elections this cycle.

But whatever short-term plan the DNC has for GOTV, leaders in labor, the progressive community and the House and Senate working on '06 strategy have yet to see it, prompting fears that Democrats are once again lagging behind the other side. "By now, groups like labor should be seeing late drafts of a significant number of plans," says one Democratic operative who's worked closely with the DNC. That means helping state parties and campaigns target voters by phone, mail and in person; recruiting local volunteers; organizing events and rallies; and planning for the election day turnout blitz. In coordination with the local campaigns, state parties should be submitting GOTV blueprints for national approval. "I'm not convinced the DNC has any plan come November," says Randy Button, former Democratic chair in Tennessee, where Harold Ford Jr. is trying to became the first black senator elected from the South since Reconstruction.

If and when the DNC produces a short-term plan that party counterparts see, there are concerns from House and Senate strategists that it will be unable to fund it. Democrats are currently doing better than average in the money war. The DCCC and DSCC are ahead of Republicans in fundraising, for the first time in recent memory. In six of the ten most competitive House races with no incumbent, Democratic candidates have more money than their Republican challengers.

But the DNC and the state parties lag behind their GOP rivals. Dean did keep pace with DNC fundraising in '04, but he has been on a spending spree, pouring millions into updating voter technology and boosting state party organizations. As a result the RNC, as of May, has four times as much cash to spend on November as the DNC--$43 million to $10.3 million. This has caused Democrats to fear that Republicans can fund last-minute ad campaigns and turnout efforts that Democrats will be unable to counter. And Republican state parties boast a financial advantage in thirty-two states. "Voters start paying attention late in the game," says the Democratic operative. "That's when you need resources. And there's a worry those resources won't be there." Button, who is coordinating the campaigns in Tennessee, agrees. "I asked Dean point blank a month ago: How much money can I count on you for? He said they've done all they're gonna do."

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