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Dean visiting GOP strongholds

Mixed reception likely in Kansas

From John Mercurio
CNN Washington Bureau


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean on Thursday began a two-day visit to the GOP stronghold of Kansas, hoping to erase the notion that his party has surrendered so-called "red states" to Republicans.

Dean, the former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate, who has been traveling the country this week in his maiden tour as DNC chief, is scheduled to speak at Washburn University in Topeka, then travel to Lawrence, where he'll speak at an evening rally Friday.

He is also scheduled to attend a fund-raiser in Lawrence, which sponsors hope will raise as much as $40,000 for the state party.

On Tuesday, Dean will go to Mississippi, also a Republican stronghold, to keynote a fund-raiser for the state Democratic Party.

Earlier this week, he spoke in New York.

Dean is likely to face a mixed reception in Kansas, which at 43 percent trails only Nebraska and Utah in the percentage of population registered as Republicans.

The state hasn't gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, and President Bush beat John Kerry among Kansans in November by 25 percentage points.

That, Dean said, is precisely why he's traveling there. "I don't think Democrats are ever going to be a national party unless we bring our message to every state, and that includes Kansas," he told the Kansas City Star.

Some local Democrats appear unconvinced.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who scored a surprising win in 2002 but is a top GOP target next year, won't appear with Dean during his two-day visit.

An aide noted that Sebelius remained neutral in the DNC race and backed Kerry in the presidential primary.

Rep. Dennis Moore, the state's only congressional Democrat, is traveling out of the country and won't return until next week. A Moore spokeswoman declined to comment on Dean's trip.

Aides to other Kansas Democrats, including state Sen. Janice Lee and Kansas City Mayor Carol Marinovich, also declined to comment on Dean's visit.

Dean is likely to face a similar reception next week in Mississippi, where Rep. Gene Taylor, the state's only white Democrat in Congress, has been openly critical of his party's new chairman.

Still, Kansas state Rep. Paul Davis, a Democrat whose district includes the city of Lawrence, said Dean is good for the party, even in Kansas, because he brings "energy" to the grass roots. Davis noted, for example, that tickets for the rally in Lawrence sold out in less than three hours.

"I don't think people are looking at him from an ideological perspective," Davis said in an interview Wednesday night. "They're just energized by someone who's going to bring new people into the party structure and help to activate and energize the party."

"The party has really lacked energy in the past couple years," he said, "and Dean brings that energy."


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