Fowler 1, Dean 0

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A dent was knocked into the aura of inevitability surrounding Howard Dean's run to be the next Democratic Party chair Sunday afternoon when the executive committee of state party chairs voted to endorse Donnie Fowler rather than Dean. Just last week the former Vermont governor had touted endorsements from some state party leaders. But it was Fowler — bespectacled, Southern, and, at 37, the youngster of the field — who prevailed in Sunday's vote. Fowler, a South Carolinian who lives in California and is the son of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Don Fowler, headed Al Gore's field operation in the 2000 presidential election. Last year he ran the field operation in Michigan for John Kerry, who won that state by three percentage points.

Former Texas Rep. Martin Frost had been considered the front-runner among the Anybody-But-Dean crowd, which includes a large number of Democratic elected officials. But Dean has been the odds-on favorite, in part because the 478 delegates of the Democratic National Committee who will vote next month on the replacement for current chairman Terry McAuliffe are more liberal than many of the party's most prominent faces. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and her counterpart in the Senate, Nevada's Harry Reid, are among those working behind the scenes to drum up anti-Dean sentiment, but other party stalwarts like Harold Ickes are backing the former presidential contender whose candidacy dissolved with a misplayed yowl in Iowa. Now Fowler thinks he has the inside shot to unseat Dean in much the same way that Kerry eclipsed the front-runner in 2004. "Inevitability is dead, just like it died in 2004," said Fowler in an interview.

The race now moves to the house of labor, where a committee of the AFL-CIO could vote to endorse one of the candidates on Tuesday. If there is no endorsement, the individual member unions of the AFL will likely make their own picks.