WASHINGTON (CNN) – After a four-year term that saw Democrats take control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, Howard Dean bid farewell to the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday, but not without offering a hearty endorsement of the incoming chairman, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.
Addressing party members at the DNC’s annual Winter Meeting in Washington, Dean called Kaine “one of our party’s great leaders” and said he is “the right choice to lead the Democratic National Committee into this new era of American politics and to support President Obama’s agenda.”
Kaine, President Obama’s choice to succeed Dean, won the uncontested election for the chairmanship with a near-unanimous voice vote from party members (there was a single “nay” from the audience). His first order of business as chairman was to honor Dean, who leaves the committee with an extraordinary level of popularity among its members.
“Howard, I have no doubt that any future success that we have is going to be due in large party to your incredible work,” Kaine told Dean. “I feel like I am taking over for someone who just won three Super Bowls in a row.”
Much to the glee of the many state party chairs in the audience, the Virginia governor praised Dean’s sponsorship of the “50-state strategy,” which directed DNC resources to red and blue states alike.
“The 50-state strategy is now and forever what Democrats do,” Kaine said.
But speaking to reporters after his speech, Kaine provided few details on how the strategy will move forward in the new administration.
He pledged to “play strong in all 50 states” but would not commit to placing DNC staffers in every state, only promising to reveal an “intense strategic plan” in the next two months. Some states might need personnel, he said, but others might require “expertise and research.”
One state that does look promising for Democrats, Kaine said, is Texas.
“I will say this, the trends in Texas are very positive,” he told reporters after the topic of Texas came up in the general session. “Texas is a lot like Virginia. Strong Democratic majorities for a very long time, and there’s been wilderness years, just like Virginia.”
Dean’s final appearance before the committee was interrupted numerous times by standing ovations from party members. And although the closest he came to a position in the new administration was a seat on Barack Obama’s inaugural stage, the outgoing chairman betrayed no hint of bitterness as he bid farewell to the committee.
Instead, Dean spoke enthusiastically of Obama and said he was “humbled” by the progress the party has made over the last four years.
Among the party’s successes, Dean pointed to electoral victories in the West and the South, technological advancements that outpaced the GOP, outreach to young voters and people of faith, and the creation a national voter file. He noted, however, that Democrats must continue the hard work, especially in the West and the South.
“We cannot appear complacent,” he said. “We know the political landscape changes very quickly. We need to keep showing up, keep asking people for their vote, or we can lose those parts of the country just as quickly as we won them.”