WASHINGTON — Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is warning Democrats not to be too overconfident about their election prospects in 2008.
Dean expresses optimism that the Democrats will keep control of Congress and also win the White House but then he injects a note of caution.
"This election is far from over," Dean said. "Republicans are good at winning elections. They've got lots of money. They are very tough."
As for the departure of White House political strategist Karl Rove, Dean opined that "it's long overdue" but he indicated that he believes Rove will continue to play a role behind the scenes.
In a telephone interview from his home in Burlington, Vt., the DNC chairman claimed the Democrats have three things going for them: President Bush's decision to launch the disastrous war in Iraq; a lack of leadership in the country and the incompetence of the administration as personified by the poor handling of the Katrina hurricane catastrophe.
Dean believes that Katrina was the turning point on how voters viewed the Bush administration.
People could have "disagreements about the war," Dean said, "'but Katrina is the president's legacy because everyone in the world thought America was the best organized (country) and thought it had all the answers." But Katrina "showed them differently."
Dean contended that "almost all Republicans are for continuing the war" and he took issue with a New York Times report that the Democratic presidential candidates have views that could leave the U.S. engaged in Iraq for years.
"The fact is they are not proposing to stay in Iraq," he said, but acknowledged that the U.S. may keep a "special operations force in the region for years."
However, among the Democratic presidential candidates, only New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, have clear, unqualified views against the war.
At a recent gathering of bloggers, Richardson declared: "I have a one-point plan to get out of Iraq: 'Get out! Get Out!"'
The other Democratic candidates, including Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, former Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Joseph Biden, muddy their views with qualifications focused on benchmarks and timetables that will only delay the inevitable U.S. exodus.
While Democratic members of Congress caved in and went along with President Bush's plan to expand eavesdropping of Americans without a court warrant, Dean thinks the lawmakers have not been given enough credit for increasing the minimum wage to $5.85 and ethics reforms bringing lobbyists into line this summer.
Dean believes Republicans "are going to pay for calling expansion of child health insurance 'socialized medicine.'"
"The Republicans are so far out of step with the American people," he asserted.
Dean was particularly enthusiastic about his outreach efforts to religious evangelicals, who formed the bulwark of Bush's political support in the last two presidential races.
Dean, acknowledging that he doesn't expect to gain agreement with them on abortion rights, contended that members of this voting bloc are "tired of divisiveness and vindictiveness."
And "they do care about Darfur" and the oppression in Sudan, he said.
He also sees another political coup for the Democrats in the headway being made with potential voters under 30 years of age.
"I spend a lot of time with people under 30," he said, "and they are ready to take over. They want new directions. They want hope," he added, and likened it to the 1960 "New Frontier" campaign successfully waged by John F. Kennedy.
Dean has been heralded for his strategy of seeking congressional victories in all 50 states in 2006, a plan that helped Democrats take control of Congress.
Dean is on the road four to six days a week, working to win support for the Democratic party. Now it's up to those wishy-washy candidates to promise a quick end to the war and to develop plans for universal health care if they want a winning Democratic ticket.
(c) 2007 Hearst Newspapers