Last weekend in Orlando, Democratic activists gathered to scope out a parade of whimsical characters. And we don't mean Mickey, Goofy and Donald. Eight potential candidates for Democratic national chair--most prominently former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean--made pitches to representatives of the party's state branches.
Oregon's delegation featured a new face: freshly elected state committeewoman Jenny Greenleaf, a 48-year-old native North Dakotan. Greenleaf won her seat at a state party meeting the first weekend in December, ousting Mary Botkin, an organized-labor heavy hitter who held the committee post for 16 years.
Her election gives Greenleaf one of Oregon's four directly elected seats on the 440-member Democratic National Committee, which picks the party leader and sets broad strategy (Wayne Kinney was re-elected as Greenleaf's male counterpart; the state party's chair and vice chair also hold committee seats).
Greenleaf's victory followed a campaign largely fought on Internet blogs--and marked a local twist in a national battle for the battered party's reins. Botkin, a longtime lobbyist for AFSCME, the state's largest public employees' union, says John Kerry's defeat has "Deaniacs" on the warpath.
"I underestimated the frustration and anger," Botkin says. "And I didn't count my votes."
Though Dean has yet to declare for the Dems' top party job, activists with connections to the former presidential frontrunner are angling for party posts that could help him win the February vote. Greenleaf, who got her political start as a Dean volunteer, campaigned for the committee slot at a Democracy for America "meet-up" in Portland just after the November election. The group, a reincarnation of Dean's meteoric presidential bid, continues to draw scores of Portlanders to meet-ups.
All the same, Greenleaf was cautious about linking herself to the Vermonter's as-yet-unofficial bid.
"It's going to come down to who's running and who's the best candidate," she says.
Greenleaf attributes her success to diligent wooing of rural delegates to the state party meeting. "There are Democrats in eastern Oregon and there are Democrats in Montana," Greenleaf says. "We're writing off whole areas of the country."
Botkin, while wishing Greenleaf well, says she fears her replacement may have promised too much.
"Does she have a handle on Eastern Oregon?" Botkin says. "I don't know. If she does, God love her. But I've seen a lot of Jenny Greenleafs come and go. I was Jenny Greenleaf in 1988, thinking I was going to kick some ass in the DNC."