COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Democratic Leadership Council, an organization of influential party moderates, named Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York yesterday to direct a new initiative to define a party agenda for the 2006 and 2008 elections.
The appointment solidified the identification of Clinton - once considered a champion of the party's left - with the centrist movement that helped propel her husband to the White House in 1992. It also continued her effort, which has accelerated in recent months, to present herself as a moderate on issues such as national security, immigration and abortion.
In her new role, Clinton immediately called for a truce between the DLC and liberal elements of the party, which have engaged in a war of words over the Democrats' direction since President Bush won re-election last year.
"Now, I know the DLC has taken some shots from some within our party, and that it has returned fire, too," she told the gathering in Columbus. "Well, I think it's high time for a cease-fire - time for all Democrats to work together based on the fundamental values we all share. "
Clinton assumed her role as head of the DLC's "American Dream Initiative" at a meeting that drew three other centrist Democrats considered possible 2008 contenders and highlighted the maneuvering under way for the next presidential race.
Besides Clinton, roughly 500 elected officials and DLC supporters heard from Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat and the group's departing chairman; Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who replaced Bayh earlier this month; and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.
The session amounted to one of the first multi-candidate "cattle calls" for the potential 2008 contenders. "I thought I was at a New Hampshire J-J dinner," said Warner jokingly, in a reference to the Jefferson-Jackson day party dinners that are frequent platforms for Democratic presidential contenders.
Each of the potential candidates delivered campaign-style speeches that blended criticism of the Bush administration with calls for Democrats to pursue centrist policies on issues such as national defense, energy and the federal budget.
Clinton's speech was built around an elaborate portrayal of what the country might look like - on a wide range of issues from health care to homeland security - to a similar gathering that assembled in Ohio in 15 years. Clinton envisioned a more prosperous and secure future, presumably under Democratic policies. And she charged that Bush's agenda was leading America away from that day.
"After more than four years of Republican control, our government has not only gone off track, it has reversed course. They turned our bridge to the 21st century into a tunnel back to the 19th century," she said, in a reference to the central metaphor of her husband's 1996 re-election campaign.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.