Dean keynote speaker at Democratic Convention

Speaking in front of over 500 registered Democrats last Friday night at the Oregon Democratic Convention in Eugene, Howard Dean outlined the Democratic objective for the upcoming 2006 election, namely to pay more attention to Republican strongholds than Democrats have in the past.

Dean, chairman of the democratic national committee and 2004 presidential nominee, spoke along with Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Oregon Representative Peter Defazio at the weekend-long event. 699 Democrats registered for the Oregon Democratic Convention, held at the Eugene Hilton hotel from June 2-4.

Dean said the middle United States, or “red” states, are areas of the U.S. Democrats have missed in the past. According to Dean, the 50 State Strategy, as it is being called, is a necessary step for the Democrats to take in order to attain majority status in the House of Representatives in 2006.

“If you concentrate only on places you know you can win and you’re the minority party,” he said, “you will remain the minority party.”

Another task Dean said Democrats must take on this year is to court the religious vote. He compared Democrats and Evangelical Christians to one another, and said that the Democratic Party is the moral party.

“You can’t trust Republicans with your money, you can’t trust republicans with your defense and you can’t trust republicans with loving thy neighbors like themselves,” he said.

Dean, who was appreciative of a warm greeting, said the main goal of the Democratic party for the 2006 election is for Democrats to reposition themselves as the party of the people. He said this will be accomplished by bringing in new voters, even those from the middle states which in the last election voted primarily Republican. According to Dean, if the Democratic party explicitly states what they stand for, more voters will come to the party.

“It will be the Democrats who tell the people what the Democrats stand for, not the Republicans,” he said.

Dean’s speech was preceded by speeches from Bradbury, Wyden, and upcoming speaker at the Portland State University Commencement DeFazio. DeFazio has been the subject of heated debate at PSU, after he voted yes on a controversial immigration bill that would make illegal immigrants felons.

DeFazio laid out many of the arguments the Democratic Party discussed over the weekend, and said that the Republican-controlled Congress and the Bush White House are out of touch with most of the country. He said these two groups are leading the United States in the wrong direction.

“They turned Congress into a doormat for Karl Rove and the White House,” he said.

DeFazio said raising the federal minimum wage, protecting social security and becoming more energy-independent and energy-efficient are key points of interest for Democrats to continue working on.

Wyden said the Democratic National Committee’s 50 State Strategy to obtain more Democratic votes nationally is similar to efforts in Oregon to bring in more Democratic votes to the state’s 36 counties. The last election in 2004 saw 28 out of 36 counties place a majority vote for President Bush over John Kerry.

“We are going to do in 2006 what we couldn’t do in 2004 or 2002, and that’s take this country back again,” he said.

Dean said more groups around the country have been organizing for Democratic campaigns. According to Dean, in just three weeks Democrats around the country knocked on 1 million doors, in what they have been calling their grassroots campaign.

“We can sell this everywhere,” he said, “We have to speak from our hearts to the American people.”

Early on Friday, a workshop on religious outreach was held at the state convention. Mara Vanderslice, the national director of religious outreach in the Kerry-Edwards campaign, and Eric Sapp, a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church, taught the workshop, which was closed to the press.

Junior University of Oregon student Ben Lenet, co-chair of the U of O College Democrats and President of the newly created Oregon Federation of College Democrats, attended the workshop and said he personally loved Dean’s plan for religious outreach. Lenet says that for too long the Republicans have been allowed to dominate religion and believes Dean’s plan will reframe the religious argument.

Neel Pender, executive director of the Democratic Party of Oregon, said that Democratic values reflect many religious values.

“If Republicans want to have debates about values, this is a very comfortable playing field for us to play on,” he said.

Pender said this convention was a success, with about 200 more attendees than the 2004 convention, held in Portland during an election year. Pender said that many of the new attendees were only present for the Howard Dean speech and most didn’t attend the workshops, but he believes that most Democrats are fed up with the way the current administration is running the country.

“699 people registered for the convention, I’m just wondering where the 700th is?” Pender said. “Although that would make us the 700 club and that might send the wrong message.”