The upcoming winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee is the first beauty contest for the party's long list of White House contenders and a chance for someone other than Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton to catch a headline.
"This will be the first time the candidates will share the same stage, even if it is at different times,'' said Josh Earnest, a spokesman for former Iowa Sen. Tom Vilsack.
With the 2008 Democratic primary bids of media magnets Obama and Clinton drawing massive attention, other candidates are having a tough time getting known.
The DNC winter meeting is a mini-convention attended by an influential cadre of party activists. The theme is "Strong Leadership for America's Future" and will also feature the newly empowered Democratic congressional leaders.
Howard Dean's lesson
All the hopefuls -- exploring, declared, mulling -- anyone on record expressing an interest, from John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich and Joe Biden plus the Rev. Al Sharpton and former Alaska Gov. Mike Gravel -- will have their shot when they speak Friday or Saturday.
For the lesser knowns, the DNC meeting is a higher-stakes venture that could be helpful in fund-raising and organizing. "This is an important meeting, and we're grateful for the chance to participate," said Clinton spokesman Phil Singer.
Candidates like Vilsack -- who have to fight for sunlight because of Obama and Clinton -- want to use the occasion to "literally introduce himself" and tell "his story," said Earnest.
Now the DNC chairman, Howard Dean got a major break in his 2004 presidential primary when, as a little-known Vermont governor, he delivered a fiery speech at the 2003 DNC winter meeting where he popularized a line coined by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), that he was from the "Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party."
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Obama hoped to be "starting a dialogue" with the activists.