Dean wowed the faithful in '04 with his Web-based fund-raising magic. But major business donors still count, and in his new role as party honcho, the feisty doctor seems to be struggling to connect. After achieving money parity with the GOP in 2004, Democrats have fallen far behind. According to the Federal Election Commission, the DNC raised $14.1 million in the first quarter of 2005, vs. the Republican National Committee's $32.3 million. Dean drew about 20,000 new donors, while his rivals picked up 68,200. The bottom line: Republicans have $26.2 million in the bank vs. $7.2 million for the Dems.
Why the yawning gap? For starters, Dean is not a natural fit for the "stroke and joke" style that traditional party chiefs use to extract cash from well-heeled contributors. "It appears that the chairman has come to the conclusion that he doesn't need major donors," sniffs one fat cat. "He hasn't made any effort to reach out."
Personality factors aside, Dean's business-bashing '04 campaign makes him a hard sell in corporate circles. "There's a wait-and-see attitude from business and major contributors," says Nathan Landow, a Maryland developer and big-time donor. "This guy has some work to do to get the comfort level up." William W. Batoff, a Philadelphia real estate developer and longtime Democratic fund-raiser who backed President Bush in 2000 and 2004, is less diplomatic. "Howard Dean is the wrong person to be chair," says Batoff, who claims he will help fund the Dems' congressional efforts but will boycott the national committee while Dean reigns."Kind of a Dustpan"
Recent evidence of big-donor discomfort: A DNC event scheduled for May 25 at Manhattan's cavernous Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was scaled back to a smaller venue at the Essex House hotel. Bridget Siegel, the DNC's New York finance chair, says the event was moved because the new room "just worked better."
According to his defenders, Dean is doing just fine in the money wars. Internet and direct-mail appeals have started pulling in $1 million a week, says party spokeswoman Karen Finney, and the chairman "is pleased overall with [the pace of] fund-raising." Former DNC Chair Steve Grossman, a close ally, says Dean "is becoming more comfortable with [asking for money] by the day." Dean may yet find ways to build bridges to reluctant donors, but few think he'll ever be another Terry McAuliffe, the human money machine whom he replaced. "McAuliffe was like a vacuum cleaner," says Rutgers University political scientist Ross K. Baker. "Dean is kind of a dustpan."
He may be no McAuliffe, but Dean defenders note that his predecessor's golden cash register was accompanied by stinging setbacks at the polls. The new boss represents the grassroots' desire to take the fight to the Republicans. That he's doing. Still, unless Dean narrows the huge cash disparity, he may not be able to build the political dynamo he promised. With the U.S. Army spending $100 a gallon to buy gasoline and lug it to Iraq and Afghanistan for Humvees, the brass wants to cut its fuel costs. One possible solution: the Army National Automotive Center's push to boost the market for hybrid engine technology. In April, Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide Inc. (QTWW
) in Irvine, Calif., gave the Army the first of two jeep-like electric hybrids. The service also is subsidizing purchases by American utility companies of expensive hybrid trucks averaging 27,500 lbs. The goals: promote production of trucks in a size the Army would buy and gather performance data. The Army wants to switch logistics vehicles to hybrids first so they will not only save fuel but also provide electricity for outposts. Later, combat vehicles could become gas misers, too. It's one of Washington's dirty secrets that lobbyists routinely draft legislation. But enviros are crying foul after a judge brokering an asbestos-liability deal enlisted business to write part of a proposed law. Third Circuit Court Judge Edward Becker asked biz execs to draft a key provision in order to speed progress on a deal. Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group says sick and dying asbestos victims have issues with the bill, too, and deserve a crack at it. Don't bother telling that to the judge: "Look at the health and safety provisions. They were written by labor," Becker says. "Business complained about them, but they're in the bill." Indeed, he says, "there are a lot of individual companies whose ox is gored" by the proposed deal.