WASHINGTON -- After a week of controversy over his characterizations of Republicans as generally ''white" and not hard-working, the Democratic Party's chairman, Howard Dean, told party leaders yesterday that casting traditionally liberal issues in moral terms is a key to breaking the GOP's eight-year hold on the White House.
Dean acknowledged that he sees his party's national campaign apparatus as being ''30 years behind" the one fielded in November by the Bush-Cheney campaign.
He also said that the solution is for Democrats to be tough, to describe themselves boldly, and to become more organized politically, in all 50 states.
''People want us to fight, and we are here to fight," Dean said at a quarterly meeting of the party's 64-member executive committee. ''We are not going to lie down in front of the Republican machine."
In a speech Monday in San Francisco, Dean described Republicans as ''pretty much a white, Christian party" and said many in the GOP had ''never made an honest living." The comment led some to question his as the party leader.
Dean seemed yesterday to embrace his reputation for volatility, saying he is being buoyed by activists and donors. At one point, a Chicago alderman, Joseph Moore, had trouble being recognized; he joked that next time he would ''jump up and down."
''That's my job!" Dean said, and the room shook with applause.
The Democratic National Committee's lead pollster, Cornell Belcher, said that religious people who have been stymied economically represent a huge opportunity for the party, and that the challenge is to portray moral values as ''not just gay marriage and abortion."
It amounted to a call for the party to reclaim Reagan Democrats, the social conservatives who have voted largely Republican for the past 20 years.
The party, determined to compete in what Dean called ''the Mississippis and the Kansases," has vowed to put paid organizers with four-year commitments in every state, and is starting a monthly donation program for small givers.
Dean and Belcher provided a blueprint for a party where a multitude of factions and potential candidates are competing for 2008
''We have not spoken about moral values in this party for a long time," Dean said. ''The truth is, we're Democrats because of our moral values. It's a moral value to make sure that kids don't go to bed hungry at night. . . . It is a moral value not to go out on golf trips paid for by lobbyists."