Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Dean urges Dems to court evangelical Christians"

RENO (AP) — The national chairman of the Democratic Party urged his faithful in Nevada Monday night to reach out to a constituency more typically aligned with Republicans — evangelical Christians.

Democrats are poised to recapture the White House because they are the most fiscally responsible party and will end the war in Iraq, said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

But the 2008 presidential election may ultimately hinge on evangelical Christians he said are undergoing a "generational change" that emphasizes social responsibility over social conservatism.

"I haven't seen gay marriage in the Bible once," Dean said in the keynote address at a Democratic fundraiser at a Reno hotel-casino.

"But I've seen a lot about helping people who are poor and including people and not leaving anybody behind," he said. "Those are core values of the Democratic Party and they also are core values of an awful lot of evangelicals."

Dean was in Reno because, for the first time in 2008, Nevada is moving near the front of the presidential election process with its Jan. 19 caucuses sandwiched between New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary and Iowa's caucuses.

In a half-hour speech to more than 500 at the Washoe County Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner, he ticked off a list of traditional party backers including blacks, Hispanics and American Indians.

But he went on to say that his party scored victories in the last congressional elections partly because "we reached out to folks and will continue to reach out to people we had written off before, to our detriment."

"One of those groups of people is evangelical Christians," he said.

Rick Warren, a best-selling author and pastor at a Southern California church, is an example of an evangelical leader who is setting aside "those things that divide us" and doing things "that bring people together — things that really are in the Bible," Dean said. He said those priorities include fighting poverty, global warming and the bloodshed in Darfur.

Dean, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004, said he is determined this time around to "take no voter for granted."

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004, carried only 19% of the evangelical vote and Democrats as a whole won 25% from that group in 2006, Dean said.

But President Clinton "used to get 33%," Dean said.

"If we get back to 33%, we are going to start winning states again like Arkansas and Louisiana and we are on the way to the presidency. There is no reason not to include everybody," he said.

Republicans dismissed his influence in the Western state.

"After obtaining only 17% in the 2004 Nevada Democrat caucus, even Howard Deans biggest scream is sure to make little impact convincing the biggest little city in the world to support Democrats in 2008," said Amber Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Dean said Democrats were successful in 2006 because they advocate "fairness" and want to end the war in Iraq.

"There is an incredible difference" between the two parties' presidential candidates in their view of the war, he said, adding that "fiscal responsibility is a Democratic value."

"There is only one president the last 40 years who has balanced the budget and his name is William Jefferson Clinton and he is a Democrat."

Democrats nationally, at the urging of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, agreed to Nevada's new caucus date in part because of the state's diverse population, made up of nearly 23% Hispanics, Dean said.

"This is going to be the first really diverse state that Democrats campaign in in 2008 and we need these caucuses to be successful," he said. "To have the caucuses in states that look like me is not the way to win elections."

"Nevada is an extraordinarily diverse state — Anglos, African-Americans, Latinos, American Indians. ... Our candidates are going to be stronger candidates because they have campaigned here in the caucuses."

No comments: