After four years at the helm of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean is preparing to relinquish his chairmanship.
Dean, who has been serving in the post since 2005, has said in the past that he would serve only one term, though his successful work with the Obama campaign had led some Democrats to wonder whether he would stay on into the next administration. This won't be the case, officials at the DNC confirm. He will serve as chair until his term ends in January. The party will settle on a new head when it hosts a meeting during the week of Obama's inauguration.
In sheer political terms, the choice really wasn't Dean's to make. Indeed, any decision on who will serve as the next DNC chair will come with directives from Obama and his aides. And a name being floated around as a possible Dean replacement is one of the president-elect's closest allies: Claire McCaskill, the junior Senator from Missouri and a national co-chair of the Obama campaign.
"My sense is that the Obama folks are pretty insular and don't want somebody else building the party and haven't even decided what building the party means for them," explained one aide. "I bet they go with a split chair again ... McCaskill at Chair, and somebody like Steve Hildebrand [Obama's Deputy Campaign Manager] at Operational Chair."
Regardless of who takes over, the next chair will inherit an organization far different from the one that existed four years ago. Under Dean's tenure, the DNC implemented the hotly-debated 50-state-strategy, a program designed to rebuild the party into a continental force, one in which Democrats drained the resources of Republicans while simultaneously building up younger talent. Obama's incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and others were critical, believing that the policy wasted valuable resources on impossible races and needlessly forfeited otherwise winnable seats during the 2006 congressional elections. Successes in 2008, however, have largely quieted those critiques.
Indeed, four years later, it seems, Dean's vision is poised to become party orthodoxy. Dean told a Democratic operative that he is hoping to extract promises from all potential replacement candidates to preserve the 50-state-strategy. Other insiders, meanwhile, say that the next DNC chair, regardless of who it is, will build upon the model because of its tangible successes.
"The 50-state-strategy was successful in laying the groundwork for 2006 and 2008," said strategist and DNC member Donna Brazile. "Clearly, the strategy has reaped a harvest of new voters for Democrats and the next Chair will no doubt build upon this foundation for 2010 and beyond. Remember, we have some interesting statewide and mayoral elections next year before the all out organizing for redistricting."