Gearing up to battle the GOP in 2006 after recent victories in both New Jersey and Virginia, Mr. Dean is promising to take the morals issue away from the GOP. "If we get into a debate about moral values, in the end the Democrats win that debate," he said.
Mr. Dean said Democrats didn't talk up morality in 2004. "We made a mistake about not touting that. We have nothing to be ashamed of," he said.
Roger Hickey, co-director for the Campaign for America's Future, a group pushing liberal Democratic issues, said some of President Bush's problems highlighted in recent polling numbers, together with results from this year's elections, justify talk about morals. "Every one of these areas where Bush is in trouble involve [morals]-his lying about the war, his abrogation of moral values that most people hold [in] trying to cut medical benefits and food stamps for young children to reward his millionaire backers with tax cuts, the issues of poverty Katrina raised."
Democrats have already moved to seize on the moral issues in the Supreme Court fight over the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito Jr.
An ad from People for the American Way that launched several weeks ago opens with "Katrina, indictments, Iraq" and then claims, "George Bush's presidency is in trouble and he will do anything to protect it." The spot adds that the Supreme Court "belongs to all of America, not just the radical right."
Ralph G. Neas, the group's president, said that further spots will concentrate more on the impact the nomination could have on the court, but said the background on President Bush is needed to understand the context of the nomination.
A second bigger Supreme Court campaign launched last week from the Alliance for Justice, a coalition of 70 groups, among them the National Abortion Rights Action League, also featured a morals appeal. "The right wing has already taken over the West Wing. Don't let them take over your Supreme Court," says advertising from GMMB, Washington.
Republicans maintain the Democrats are more than welcome to debate moral issues, and suggest that debate would be a far cry from Mr. Dean's recent criticism of the party. "What we have heard from Chairman Dean is nothing but angry personal attack on the Republican Party and the values we stand for," said Tracey Schmitt, the Republican National Committee's press secretary, citing comments in which Mr. Dean suggested Republicans are "brain-dead" and calling the party a "white Christian party."
"We believe at the end of the day, people elect leaders on the issues rather than hurling mud."