It’s a Party Atmosphere as White House Hopefuls Make Their Case at DNC Winter Meeting

Posted February 21, 2003 at 3:36pm

From all the stickers and buttons, ubiquitous placards, blaring music, and boisterous cheers following almost every sentence, one could have mistaken Friday’s meeting of the Democratic National Committee for the 2004 national convention.

Support and applause for candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination seemed to grow with each speaker at the party’s winter meeting, which DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe said hit record attendance.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), who took the podium first at Capitol Hill’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, received the most modest applause but won the award for most modern music.

He chose U2’s “Elevation,” released in 2000, as his theme song, compared with Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.), who picked the group’s late-1980s “Where the Streets Have No Name” or former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who selected a tune by Elvis Presley.

Lieberman got plenty of love when he asked the party faithful: “Don’t you agree that America would be in a lot better shape if [2000 nominee] Al Gore and me had won?”

And while he did agree with President Bush that Saddam Hussein needs to be removed from power, he criticized the White House for its willingness to have the United States act alone.

The Connecticut Democrat also pledged to bring back the prosperity of the Clinton-Gore years.

“We need a president who will send George Bush back to Crawford and put our country back on the right track to prosperity and peace and I am [that] candidate,” he said.

While Lieberman had his high moments, Dean undoubtedly won the day.

Speaking last, Dean followed the King’s lyrics.

“A little less conversation, a little more action please,” could barely be heard over the chanting of college Democrats as Dean’s immediate lambasting of the party elders struck a loud chord with those assembled.

“Why in the world is the Democratic Party’s leadership supporting Bush’s unilateral [assault] on Iraq?” he asked.

Why are they fighting over how big the tax cut should be instead of whether one is affordable at all, he continued.

He went on to question Democrats who supported the president’s No Child Left Behind initiative — which he says leaves everyone behind — and Members of Congress who are fighting for a “patients’ bill of rights” instead of universal health coverage.

“I’m Howard Dean and I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” he shouted to resounding praise.

“My political career is about change,” he continued. “The Democratic Party needs to look in the mirror and ask, is it about winning the next election or about changing America?”

While Dean captured the hearts of the younger set, Gephardt won plenty of applause too.

The former House Minority Leader talked about how his parents did not finish high school and earned modest incomes. He said he went to college and law school because he had help and assistance and is now vying for the presidency. He went on to say that he views American society as one that is bound together, one in which if the less fortunate do not receive a good education or access to health care, everyone else pays for it.

Gephardt argued that Bush does not see the world in the same way.

“I’m not the political flavor of the month,” he said in his prepared remarks, echoing his campaign announcement earlier this week. “I’m not the flashiest candidate around. But the fight for working families is in my bones. It’s where I’m from; it’s been my life’s work.”

As the men in the crowded field — eight Democrats are now seeking the nomination — talked about why they want the grand prize of politics, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (Ill.) returned to the limelight to talk about what a woman can bring to the presidency.

Entering to the female-empowering Des’ree song “You Gotta Be,” Moseley-Braun said: “I believe women have a contribution to make to move our country toward peace, prosperity and progress.

“I have the credentials, the experience and the vision to put our nation back on the track we enjoyed in the last Democratic administration,” the former ambassador to New Zealand said.

“I have raised my voice to speak truth to power in public debate. And now I am prepared to breach the last barrier, shatter the last great glass ceiling that limits the contributions a woman can make in the leadership of this country,” the first black woman Senator said to resounding applause.

On Saturday, presidential nominee hopefuls Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) will make their cases.