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The Ticket talks with DNC Chairman Howard Dean

April 8, 2008 |  1:22 am

Howard Dean is a former doctor, a former state legislator, a former lieutenant governor, a former governor and a former presidential candidate who sought the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee in 2005 as a kind of states rights guy, a power to the states fellow who would run the national operation with a lenient hand in terms of centralized power.

So here he is in 2008 locked in a bitter stalemate with two key states -- Florida and Michigan that will be crucial for the DemocBefore he was Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean was a presidential candidate himself. Now he must handle a difficult Florida and Michigan issue for the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late Augustratic candidate come November -- but at the moment are barred from any representation at the party's national convention in late August in Denver, which is a lovely pre-snow time of year there even at 5,280 feet. (Take your jacket just in case.)

But things could get as hot in Denver as Howard Dean was in 2004 when he finished third in Iowa, if this Clinton-Obama mano a mano goes that far. So, our veteran colleague Mark Z. Barabak, who's known the chairman for years, asked him when they sat down for a recent chat, what's wrong with states setting their own primary dates?

“This is a national election," Dean replied. "They supported a set of rules for the candidates to abide by, everybody agreed to abide by those rules — including Michigan and Florida — and then....

at the last minute they tried to undo the system, which caused a lot of problems. We had Iowa threatening to move into 2007. We had New Hampshire doing the same thing.

"We had carefully put together four states which were both ethnically and geographically diverse, which was going to be screwed up. So, we thought that we needed to preserve the rules as everyone voted for them.

"It’s a little like waiting in a lunch line. If two kids jump out of line and try to get to the front of the line, if you don’t do something about it, pretty soon you’ve got mob rule and that’s not a good way to nominate a president.”

In other words, nevermind states rule. It's the principal's rules that count.

Here are a couple other things the chairman talked about:

The Dream Ticket of O-C or C-O: "Obviously that solves the unity problem. But whoever is eventually the nominee will decide who their running mate is. I don’t think there are too many Democrats who would object to that and it’s obviously a very attractive solution.

"But in the long run, whoever wins the nomination is going to have to make their own pick for whatever their reasons are.”

In other words, it's not up to the chairman.

Clinton Get Out!: “I wouldn’t want to do that because, having been a candidate myself, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. That’s a very personal decision and this is an incredibly difficult race and I think everybody makes up their own mind about when to get in and when to get out.

“I have a lot of respect for both these candidates. So I can’t imagine either one of them doing something that’s churlish or that’s bad for the party or bad for the country.”

Has either of them crossed the line so far? “Not even close.”

And what about this John McCain fellow, who's already sewed up the Republican nomination and started his general election run?  "He has no ideology, it doesn’t seem to me, that he’s willing not to change. It always makes me worry when somebody seems to not have too many core beliefs.

"And I think John McCain does have core beliefs. The problem is he’s willing to give them away.”

(UPDATE: In response to this Ticket item, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, Alex Conant, issued this statement Tuesday:

( "Voters are sick and tired of the angry rhetoric and personal attacks, and that’s all that Howard Dean offers. It’s clear that Dean will say anything to distract from the divisive nomination battle within his own party, but that doesn’t excuse his over-the-top statements.”)

In other words, it seems unlikely the Arizona senator will be getting Dean's vote come fall.

-- Andrew Malcolm