Now Playing: 'Anybody but Dean, Part 2'; While the GOP Danced, the Dems Once Again Found Themselves Looking for a Leader Who's Not from Vermont

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

Within hours of George Bush's Inauguration, everyone was playing his assigned role. Republicans, happily united, were dancing the night away at glittering balls in downtown Washington. Democrats, meanwhile, divided into familiar warring camps: for and against Howard Dean. In Burlington, Vt., Dean and hundreds of fans gathered for an "un-Inauguration"--and in support of the former governor's quest to become the new chairman of the Democratic Party. In Georgetown that same evening, hordes of insiders partied at the stately home of Mark Penn, the Clinton family pollster, where they gripped and grinned with Bill and Hill, cheered each other up--and fretted about Dean's assault on party headquarters. "There was a ton of positive energy at the house," a guest said later, "except for the fear and loathing of Dean."

If you think you have seen this movie before--"Dean Against the Machine"--you have. Ever since the early days of the 2004 presidential campaign, the country doctor from the State of Ben & Jerry has been the agitating principal of a confused, fratricidal and essentially leaderless party. Then, as now, Dean inspired an outside-the-Beltway, Net-based crusade whose shock troops adored his social progressivism and his fearless opposition to war in Iraq. Then, as now, a party establishment--based in Congress, governors' mansions and Georgetown salons--viewed him as a loudmouthed lefty whose visibility would ruin the Democratic brand in Red States. Back then, insiders coalesced around Sen. John Kerry, who was stodgy but, Washington wise guys thought, a safe alternative. They trapped Dean in a crossfire in Iowa; his caucus-night Scream sealed his fate.

But the 477 DNC members who choose the party chair haven't settled on a leader of the 2005 version of the Anybody But Dean movement. For now, the front-running alternative is former congressman Martin Frost of Texas, a pro-labor moderate with a lifetime of traditional organizing who survived 13 terms in Dallas before the GOP redistricted him into oblivion. He's followed by Simon Rosenberg, a young Washington-based fund-raiser and strategist who claims to be as digitized and Net-friendly as Dean--and yet more popular than Dean among the bloggers, who are emerging as new grass-roots powers in the party. Pro-lifer Tim Roemer is also running.

In the meantime, with the DNC meeting approaching on Feb. 12, party insiders have been conducting an urgent, so far fruitless, search for a consensus Dean-stopper. The Clintons don't like Dean on substance or style, seeing him as too left and too loose-lipped. But they're being careful. Hillary, already eying a presidential run in 2008, doesn't want to alienate the possible winner; she's leaving DNC maneuvers to Bill, whose answer last month was to sound out current chairman Terry McAuliffe about remaining in the job. …