In Kean’s backyard, Dean says Democrats must compete everywhere

When Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean starts listing the names of American cities in rapid succession, it’s difficult for

When Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean starts listing the names of American cities in rapid succession, it’s difficult for the observer not to brace for what surely will be a war whoop exclamation point.

An old joke for Dean, but inevitable in packed houses where he faces core supporters. And while the former pump-up-the-volume anti-war Presidential candidate did rattle off locales where he believes Democrats can compete with the implementation of his 50-state strategy, there was no jump off the oratorical high dive as he addressed Union County Democrats this morning at the Kenilworth Inn.

Those who spoke to him remarked that the DNC chairman is almost sloganeer-like with his rhetoric these days.

"Our bylaws don’t enable him to comment on specific candidates and races (in the Democratic Presidential primary)," said Damien LaVera, spokesperson for the DNC, moments after he thrust Dean out of the reach of a handful of reporters.

Welcomed earlier to the podium by state Democratic Chairman Joseph Cryan, Dean told Democrats to get in there and take down districts now controlled by Republicans.

"If you’re playing defense in politics, you’re losing," said Dean.

The party chairman was in New Jersey to talk strategy with Cryan, and to give a thumbs-up to two Democrats poised to make Congressional runs in 2008, in districts that were one-time Republican locks: State Sen. John Adler, who intends to run against U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton in the 3rd Congressional District, and Assemblywoman Linda Stender, who will again challenge U.S. Rep. Jim Ferguson in Congressional District 7.

Dean also waved a rally flag at former Long Hill Mayor Gina Genovese, who’s challenging state Sen. Tom Kean, Jr., in the 21st District.

"She’s got the best job in New Jersey, which is knocking off Tom Kean, Jr.," said Dean, who was mobbed by local candidates after his speech, some of whom told him they supported his grassroots run for president in 2004.

Adler, who is backing Sen. Barack Obama for President in ’08, said it’s a false premise to consider the status of frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton as contradictory to Dean, or indicative of a party proclivity to sit on the fence. Clinton voted to give President George W. Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq, which Dean opposed.

"The first significant poll is Iowa, then New Hampshire, and it won’t be until February until people have an idea of who the nominee is going to be," said Adler.

"The point is," said LaVera, "is that all of the Democratic candidates have a plan to bring the troops home (from Iraq)."

An argument Dean made in his speech cast Bush’s spending priority of $100 billion annually in Iraq, against the President’s veto earlier this week of $7 billion for children’s healthcare.

Stender said Bush is relevant in Legislative races because money the country is spending in Iraq would be better spent on domestic programs, such as education and children’s healthcare. She also said it would be a mistake for the GOP to believe Democrats are merely running against Bush in this off-year election next month, arguing that the State Transportation Trust Fund went bankrupt because of Gov. Christie Todd Whitman’s policies in the 1990s, and that Whitman failed to fund the state pension system, contributing to New Jersey’s "fiscal catastrophe," in Stender’s words.

Of Genovese’s challenge to Kean, Phil Morin, chairman of the Union County Republican Party, said the Democrats are perhaps being unrealistic.

"Tom Kean has a record of fiscal conservatism on state budget issues, and is a leader in ethics reform and pay-to-play reform," said Morin in a telephone interview. "He is also very good on environmental issues," including the state’s clean car initiative and as sponsor of anti-global warming measures.

Since his loss to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, "He’s a little wiser," Morin said of Kean. "He’s out there knocking on doors, and campaigning with local candidates."

In Kean’s backyard, Dean says Democrats must compete everywhere