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Democrats find a defiant voice

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Still, some say the party will eventually need to think more about the ways in which it's delivering its message - and the messengers it puts forward. While an aggressive stance may help Democrats fire up their activist base and raise money, it is unlikely to help them reach out to the red-state voters they need to expand their party and win back the White House in 2008.

"George Bush has given us a lot to oppose, so we're spending a lot of time opposing him," says Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist Democratic group that was highly critical of Dean during the presidential primary process, though it was neutral during the race for party chair. "But many Democrats are also trying to learn from this past election, and set the record straight on what Democrats stand for," he adds. "Everyone recognizes that our challenge is to win the argument with voters in states where too often of late we have lost it."

The challenge

Unlike the beginning of Bush's first term, when Democrats faced real rifts over whether Al Gore had run too populist a campaign, strategists this time around say the challenge lies primarily in the communication, rather than the substance, of the party's message.

Certainly, exit polls showing that values were a top concern for voters who backed Bush have raised some debate within the party. But most Democrats say the solution lies in better anchoring the party's positions and beliefs in the language of values, rather than actually shifting its positions on social issues such as abortion.

Whether Dean, as the new party chair, will add to or detract from this effort to expand the party's appeal remains to be seen. Certainly, supporters and critics agree, he's likely to inspire Democrats and offer a staunch voice of opposition. Many cite Dean's ability to raise large sums of money over the Internet during his presidential run, and note that he has a clear ability to inspire grass-roots activists.

"We all witnessed this extraordinary revolution on the Internet, which is only going to continue," says Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster who worked on Dean's campaign. "The fact that [he] can continue to motivate and activate this extraordinary small-giver base is just a fantastic thing for the party."

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