POLITICS
01/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

GOP Turns To Howard Dean For Salvation

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in politics and elsewhere. And after two straight cycles of congressional pickups, outgoing DNC chair Howard Dean is no longer a boogeyman for his Republican counterparts -- he's a template for success.

This past weekend, a candidate for RNC Chair, Michigan Republican Party Chair Saul Anuzi, said the Grand Old Party would do well to follow the example set by the former Vermont Governor.

"There is a perception that we are a regional party and that we are a party from the South because that's the region we're consistently winning today," Anuzis told Politico. "I do think we need to have our version of the 50-state program that [Democratic National Committee Chair Howard] Dean had."

This prescription came days after Karl Rove, the architect of the current Republican Party, made a similar plea of his own. Noting incredible margins that Barack Obama had among black and Latino voters, the former Bush strategist -- appearing at a debate on the Bush legacy in New York -- said the GOP had to "be a party governing all Americans... It can only do that by making the case to African American and Latinos."

Implicit within these critiques is the notion that Republicans have become regionalized -- overly reliant on strong turnout among white working class voters, primarily below the Mason-Dixon line. In this context, Dean's vision of building infrastructure across the electoral map -- which, it should be noted, was initially taken from the GOP -- makes sense for the current Republican Party. Why cede the entire New England House delegation when, at the very least, they could force the DCCC to spend resources defending those seats?

But the sticking point, as one DNC staffer argues, is ideology. Putting together institutions to make gains in non-Republican regions only will help if the party has a political message that can resonate among non-conservatives.

"By relying on wedge issues to win, they've used issues to divide people and worked to appeal to an increasingly smaller group of people," said the aide. "Dean's point has not just been that we need to show up in all 50-states but also that as a party we need to ask people for their votes, listen to what they have to say and be willing to work to solve issues in areas where we have common ground, even if we don't agree with everything."

Part of that is simply showing up. The leading Republican presidential candidates this cycle famously shunned an African-American themed debate, much to the chagrin of moderates like Jack Kemp, who worried that the party had become too country club. The handling of immigration reform and other related issues, meanwhile, has led students of the political process -- like NDN Simon's Rosenberg -- to seriously consider the idea that Democrats will have a generational lock on the growing minority vote.

Finally, there is the age gap. Rove, appearing in New York, lamented the fact that young voters had abandoned the Republican Party, many driven by anger towards the Iraq War. This may be true, but it is also incomplete. The problem, the DNC aide said, is more systemic.

"Look at the voting habits of under 30 voters," she said. "they are more multicultural and less partisan, they want to be inspired, not lectured to and not manipulated in the way that Rove has used "anger points" to manipulate voters. Those voters are the future of our party, and the GOP doesn't seem to be speaking to them at all. So just because they show up in all 50 states, if they don't understand the voters they are trying to reach, it won't improve their electoral chances."