ATLANTA — Howard Dean on Friday blamed Democratic losses in 2014 and 2016 on poor organization in his own party.

The former presidential candidate, Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman rejected suggestions that his party needs to rethink how it appeals to voters in the heartland, where President Trump won surprise victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that carried him to victory even as he lost the national popular vote.

Dean instead blamed the steep decline Democrats suffered under President Barack Obama on the party focusing more on holding the White House than on down ballot offices in Congress and the states. He also cited the challenge of keeping liberal voters engaged in midterm elections.

“The problem is, when you have an incumbent president, whether it’s Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, the Democratic Party becomes the re-elect vehicle for the president and abandons its role as a grassroots organization,” Dean told reporters. “That’s not a bad thing to say about Barack Obama, it happens every time we have an incumbent president.”

He was in Atlanta to campaign for Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Fort Bend, Ind., whom he has endorsed for DNC chairman.

“This is an inside-the-Beltway, outside-the-Beltway thing, another reason I’m supporting Pete, because he’s the outside the Beltway candidate. I do not think we can prosper with a chairman from inside the Beltway, because they think differently than the rest of America thinks,” Dean added. He was referring to the two front-runners, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Tom Perez of Maryland, who served as labor secretary under Obama.

The DNC is set to select a new chairman on Saturday. The contest will be decided by the 442 eligible DNC voting members in balloting that could go multiple rounds.

Under Obama, the Democrats lost their majorities in the House and Senate, several governorships, and nearly 1,000 seats in state legislatures across the country. Some Democratic insiders have conceded it’s a problem of the party’s own making.

In particular, they say, blue collar voters that otherwise support the party’s economic message have defected to the Republicans because they felt unwelcome and looked down upon because they have resisted cultural changes, and did not join the Democrats’ progressive positions favoring same-sex marriage, gun control, an expansion of transgender rights and abortion rights.

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Buttigieg, the only contender for DNC chairman from the Midwest, where Democrats have suffered the most, agrees with that assessment. The mayor, who is gay, defended Democratic positions on social issues. But he said his party has to be more open in how it talks about these issues with voters who are open to liberal economic policies but remain socially conservative.

“There are some things we can do in terms of the way we talk about our values,” Buttigieg said. “When you’re a mayor or really any Democrat in the industrial Midwest, you learn about ways to speak to our values that are a little closer to home and closer to the ground and closer to the kitchen table than maybe is the comfort zone of some Democrats that tend to be clinical or academic about the whole thing.”

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