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Interview: DNC co-chair urges party toward new political thinking

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 1) -- Under the new leadership of National Chairman Joe Andrew, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has charted a course toward the 2000 election that rejects many of the longstanding ideas about the role of a national party and instead relies heavily on grassroots politics and high technology, like the Internet.

"Politics has fundamentally changed," Andrew told AllPolitics in a recent interview.

Andrew, 39, was elected as national chair of the DNC in March. For the previous four years, he served as chair of the Indiana Democratic Party. A graduate of Yale Law School, he is a lawyer and entrepreneur with business interests in biotechnology and several Internet companies. He is also the author of "The Disciples," a spy novel published by Simon & Schuster.

Speaking to AllPolitics, Andrew laid out his vision for the role of the DNC in the upcoming 2000 election:


The DNC has set uncompromising goals for 2000: To retain the White House, regain majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, and win races at the state and municipal levels.

To accomplish that task, Andrew and his Democratic colleagues believe the national party must modernize its thinking. The 'old' mantra was "right races, right places," Andrew explained, meaning the DNC, and its Republican counterpart, would prioritize the individual races it needed to or could win, and allocate its money and resources accordingly.

DNC focused on mechanics, not message

So what's the Democrats' new philosophy? "The right mechanics," Andrew says.

The DNC's new challenge is to provide every Democratic candidate with the right "tools" so they can broadcast their message: "A national political organization is not about prioritizing races but rather prioritizing services it'll offer, empowering people no matter where they are to be able to win," Andrew said.

Joe Andrew on the role of the Internet in 2000

"Just like Democrats in the party who were able to figure out how to communicate through television in the 60s when John F. Kennedy was elected and we dominated for a decade, whichever party can figure out how to most effectively and efficiently communicate through the Internet will be the party that will dominate the future.

"One of the great axioms of contemporary politics is that 'All politics is local' -- the great Tip O'Neill line. And what people always meant by that is that the politics in Seattle is different from neighborhoods outside of New Orleans or Harlem in New York.

"What has happened is that because of the Internet, there are people all over this country that form relationships with people thousands of miles away but do not know the people who live on either side of them. They don't know the people in the house on the left, or the house on the right; they don't know somebody who lives in the apartment below them or the apartment above them.

"But they will have formed an entire community on the Internet who are either like-minded or have a similar interest or have something in common with each other. People meet and greet on the Internet, they exchange ideas, they get married after they meet each other on the Internet. What has happened here is that "local" doesn't mean geography anymore. Politics still are all local but local about, again, these attitudes and aspirations. Common denominators that are based on communication through the Internet -- or through the telephone or interactive TV or technologies that people have all over the country.

"Once you recognize that -- and candidly, nobody else is wandering around this country talking about that other than me and my colleagues here at the DNC -- once you recognize it, that's local politics now -- you've got to form your organization based on those kind of common denominators, based on those interest groups that are formed through communication -- not just interest groups that are formed on geography ...

If it's successful, Democrats can beat every Republican in every match-up "from dog catcher to president of the United States," Andrew insists. "America 2000" is the DNC blueprint for supporting those "candidates and parties and organizations" and mobilizing voters.

The "mechanics" being supplied by the DNC include lining up 1 million volunteers to create "National Voter File," a system to profile and target voters nationwide. The national organization also will spend $1 million to make that information accessible to all state parties.

Another high tech tool is the Internet. "Whichever party can figure out how to most effectively and efficiently communicate through the Internet will be the party that will dominate the future," Andrew said.

"The DNC is democrats.org and we live in a politics.com world," Andrew said. In an attempt to get the upper hand, the DNC plans to establish a Democratic Internet Center and invest in the technology.

Women = Democratic victories

Another key to winning races in 2000 will be getting women to the polls.

"When women vote, Democrats win," Andrew says. "There's a direct relationship ... when women turn out to vote the Democratic candidate wins in every single election."

He dismissed the idea that women, who have proven to be firmly in Bill Clinton's corner through two elections and the impeachment process, may abandon either Vice President Al Gore or former Sen. Bill Bradley, the only two candidates currently seeking the Democratic nomination.

"I think Republicans are particularly insulting to women when they say 'This is just about Bill Clinton -- just about his charismatic personality.' It's simply not. It's about programs, policies, initiatives, attitudes and aspirations that go far beyond any individual candidate."

'We're the optimists'

Andrew says renewed support for the Democratic party has not been limited just to women. Over the past seven years of the Clinton Administration there has been a shift across the country: Now, "people are more comfortable with identifying themselves as a Democrat," he said.

The current economic boom the nation is enjoying has played a big part in the attitude change, according to Andrew, who credits his party's policies for the healthy economy. "And at the same time we've been able to move people off of welfare, improve health care, improve education, protect the environment and all the things that are core issues for Democrats for a generation."

But another big reason for the resurgence of Democratic support is based on attitude. Republicans are "pessimists" whose constant insistence that America was suffering from a lack of "public ethics" has left many voters "tuning out and turning off" to the GOP message.

"Optimism and strength are clearly the two things that separate us from the Republicans," Andrew said.

Fund-raising and funds still an issue

Still, the Democratic party is still struggling to emerge from a shadow cast from the 1996 election cycle.

Since that time the DNC has been at the center of the fund-raising controversy that has led to a Justice Department probe as well as several congressional investigations -- though lawmakers have not passed any campaign finance reforms.

Andrew voiced some frustration with the continued attention placed on the 1996 fund-raising, pointing out that there has not "been a single story in 1997 or 1998 or 1999 that deals with the DNC" alleging any further alleged abuses. The new DNC head said that track record will continue into the 2000 races.

"All the attention is about things that happened in 1995 and 1996. That's because the DNC put it into place a strong compliance department." That's not "true for the (Republican National Committee)," Andrew said.

Still, the national organization was left with a large debt, that still hovers around $6 million. Wiping that off the books is a priority, Andrew said, but "far from our first priority."

Andrew said you can't measure a party's health dollar-for-dollar: "Republicans out-raised us 5-1 in '98 but Democrats won," referring to the Democrats' gain of five seats in the House and no losses in the Senate, despite predictions that Republicans would expand their majorities in both chambers.


RELATED STORIES

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Democratic National Committee
Andrew profile
America 2000

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MESSAGE BOARD

Election 2000

The Clinton era



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Tuesday, June 1, 1999

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