Dean under scrutiny as Republicans win cash battle

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A year away from vital congressional elections, Republicans are raising twice as much campaign money as Democrats - leading some within the Democratic party to question the abilities of their chairman, Howard Dean.

Newly obtained figures show that between January and September this year, the Republican National Committee raised $81.5m (£47m). By contrast, over the same period the Democratic National Committee (DNC) raised just $42m.

Although the elections of 2006 - when Democrats will attempt to take back control of the Senate and the House - are 12 months away, within the party there are already doubts being raised about its fund-raising tactics and the role of Mr Dean, the former governor of Vermont who campaigned to be his party's presidential candidate. His speech to supporters delivered after he came third in the Iowa caucus has gained cult status and become known as his "I have a scream" moment.

One unidentified aide to the Democratic leadership in the House, told The Washington Post: "There is plenty of time, but the red flashing sirens should be going off there."

Mr Dean's victory in February in the contest to take over leadership of the party was certainly controversial. While his supporters pointed to his ability to use the internet to raise money from grass-roots supporters during his ultimately unsuccessful bid to be the party's presidential candidate, others questioned his readiness to work with the party's establishment in Washington and to reach out to other high-dollar donors.

Of particular concern to some Democrats is not so much the amount of money that has been raised but the amount that remains available. While the Republicans still have $34m of the $81.5m they raised in the bank, the Democrats have just $6.8m of their $42m left.

Mr Dean hit back, pointing out that in previous election cycles the Democrats had raised even less money. Indeed, figures show that at a similar point in 2003, Republicans had raised $80m while the Democrats had raised just $31m. "[They] were getting 3-1. This is an improvement in our position," said Mr Dean, speaking on NBC's Meet the Press. "The facts are that we have more money than we have had in the past."

Asked if he believed the party had the resources to secure the two houses of Congress, he replied: "We can and we will. The fact is that when the American people want real change they will change it."

During his presidential campaign, Mr Dean made a point of pitching himself as a Washington outsider who was ready to take on the bureaucrats and others within the party establishment who had "accommodated" themselves with Beltway interests.

When he was elected chairman, many observers questioned whether Mr Dean - having made those sorts of comments - would be able to build a relationship with the establishment.

Bob Farmer, a former DNC finance chairman, said one of the party chairman's most important tasks was to build relationships with wealthy donors, who can give a maximum of $26,700 to the party every year.

Mr Dean's first eight months as chairman have been mixed. He has lost several members of his fund-raising team, and has been unable to match his earlier successes using the internet as a fundraising tool. During his presidential campaign he raised 40 per cent of his total $50m from small internet donations.

Mr Dean's allies argue that one of the problems fund-raisers have encountered is that donors are tired of giving after seeing the party's presidential challenger Senator John Kerry raise record amounts, only to lose to President George Bush.