updated 1/31/2005 1:59:38 PM ET 2005-01-31T18:59:38

Howard Dean won the backing of state Democratic Party leaders Monday, putting him in a strong position to win the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

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“If all of our members vote for him, that will be half of what he needs to win the chairman’s job,” said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Association of State Democratic Chairs.

The party’s presidential front-runner in 2003 won 56 votes from the state chairs and Democratic activist Donnie Fowler won 21 during a national conference call. The state chairs ignored a recommendation made Sunday by the executive committee to back Fowler. Other candidates’ support Monday was in single digits.

“We’re asking all of our state chairs and vice chairs to follow our endorsements,” Brewer said, noting that would bring 112 votes. “And we think they will.”

Candidate for change
The former Vermont governor will bring changes the state parties have asked for, said Brewer. Dean revolutionized Democratic politics in the 2004 presidential campaign with his use of the Internet, organizing strategy and his ability to energize new voters.

“Strengthening the state parties is a central part of our plan to make the Democratic Party competitive in every race, in every district, in every state and territory,” said Dean, who said his campaign to win the post continues. “If elected DNC Chair, we will make this vision a reality.”

Dean already had about 50 endorsements of DNC members, including five chairs. He needs a majority of the 447 members to win the post. The election is scheduled Feb. 12.

Some in the party have worried aloud about Dean, saying he may be too outspoken and too blunt on occasion to provide effective leadership. But as Dean’s campaign gained ground, Democratic resistance has seemed to fade.

Last week, longtime activist Harold Ickes said he would back Dean, saying he concluded that Dean had more of the attributes needed to run the party than any of the other candidates.

Unions haven't committed
Organized labor is considering whether to back a candidate and could revitalize the race by choosing one of Dean’s opponents. But Democrats watching that situation have said it’s unclear whether the AFL-CIO will endorse a single candidate. Former Texas Rep. Martin Frost has been counting heavily on labor support to gain strength against Dean.

Dean’s fast-moving campaign appeared to be detoured Sunday when the chairs’ executive committee backed Fowler. But the chairs on their national conference call disregarded that recommendation.

Fowler, 37, has worked on campaigns in more than a dozen states and is the son of former Democratic National Committee chairman Donald Fowler of South Carolina.

Dean, a former Vermont governor, had already gotten the backing of state party chairs in Vermont, Washington state, Florida, Oklahoma and Mississippi. He also has the backing of dozens of other DNC members.

Seven candidates are in the running for the chairman’s job, including Dean, Fowler, Frost, Democratic activist Simon Rosenberg, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer and former Ohio party chair David Leland.

Frost got five votes from the state chairs, Rosenberg got three, Roemer got three and Webb got three.

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