Video: Democrats nervous about Dean

updated 6/6/2005 7:53:11 PM ET 2005-06-06T23:53:11

NEW YORK — Is this remark about Republican leaders the best way to court discontented Republicans?

"A lot of them never made an honest living in their lives," said Howard Dean on June 2 at a conference hosted by Take Back America.

Or what about this shot at Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas?

"I think Tom Delay ought to go back to Houston, where he can serve his jail sentence!" Dean told an audience at the Massachusetts state convention on May 14.

Or this exchange, May 22, on NBC's "Meet the Press:"

Tim Russert: Serve his jail sentence? What's he been convicted of?

Howard Dean: This gentleman is not an ethical person, and he ought not to be leading Congress, period.

In fact, Dean has been making some Democrats nervous for months.

The day after Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed in March, Dean called Republicans "brain dead." In April he said, "We're going to use Terri Schiavo later on" as a campaign issue.

Now, some possible presidential hopefuls are distancing themselves from their own party chairman.

"He doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric, and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week."

"My own view is, the chairman of the DNC is not the spokesman for the Democratic Party," echoed former vice presidential candidate John Edwards at a fund-raising dinner in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday.

One symptom of the problem: Insiders say big Democratic money men are "not ponying up."  Big contributions are way down — even for a non-election year.

"He was gratuitously insulting 50 million Americans who call themselves Republicans, some of whom we hope will vote Democrat," says Democratic consultant David Axelrod.

Dean does bring energy, and he is willing to fight in a way that many Democrats say Sen. John Kerry wasn't. Late Monday, party stalwarts started rallying around Dean.

"He's doing a good job in terms of grass roots support for the party, but he understands, as we do, nobody's hanging on every word [from] the chair of the Democratic National Committee," says Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

And John Edwards blogged that he and Dean "won't always use the same words. But we will always fight the same fight."

But some Democrats are not hiding their dismay. Monday night, former Democratic Party Chairman Bob Strauss told NBC News, "It doesn’t become the chairman of our party to be as loose with his lips as he apparently is."

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