San Jose, California (CNN) - Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who electrified anti-war liberals during the 2004 presidential race, said Thursday he would consider another run for the White House – a statement that will surely be met with mixed reaction in the Democratic Party.
Dean, whose underdog presidential campaign officially launched 10 years ago this weekend, said he has "mixed feelings" about running for office again but added he would consider another bid for the Democratic presidential nomination if he doesn't think the other candidates are adequately addressing progressive issues that are dear to his heart.
"I am not driven by my own ambition," Dean told CNN in an interview at the Netroots Nation conference, an annual gathering of left-leaning political activists. "What I am driven by is pushing the country in a direction that it desperately needs to be pushed; pushing other politicians who aren't quite as frank as I am who need to be more candid with the American people about what needs to happen. I am not trying to hedge, it's a hard job running. It's really tough. I am doing a lot of things I really enjoy. But you should never say never in this business."
Dean, the founder of Democracy for America, a progressive organization that lobbies for causes such as same-sex marriage and expanded access to health care, maintained that the prospect is unlikely. He is well liked and respected by liberals – hence his appearance at this week's conference, but is still viewed with a wary eye by many in the Democratic establishment because of his outspoken nature and frequent refusal to march in lockstep with national party leaders.
"If you had to put a gun to my head and make me decide right now, I wouldn't," said Dean, who became chairman of the Democratic National Committee after failing to win his party's nomination in 2004. "But who knows?"
He made clear, though, that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the undisputed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, will not run unchallenged if she, too, decides to make a second White House run.
"She is not going to have a pass," Dean said. "There will be other people who will run."
He named New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley as two potential candidates he's keeping an eye on – though Gillibrand this week said she is "personally urging Secretary Clinton to run." And it is unclear if the politically astute O'Malley would take the risk of challenging Clinton.
As for his views on the recently disclosed sweeping surveillance programs, Dean said he was troubled less by the specifics of the program than by the fact that such sweeping efforts were kept hidden from public view.
"I am not horrified by the program," he said. "What I am horrified by is that we didn't know about it and that the Congress took a pass on it. All these congressmen scurrying about of the limelight pretending they didn't hear anything about it. They had plenty of chances to hear about it."
Dean called on the president to deliver a televised address to the nation about the scope of the surveillance.
"I think Obama has to talk to the American people about this," he said. "I think the public gets that we have to protect ourselves form terrorism, and they get that they probably have to sacrifice some personal liberties to protect them from terrorism, but they don't want to give up the idea that the people are in control of the government and not the other way around.
"The president should go on TV to explain that. 'Here is what we are doing. Here is why we are doing it. And here is why we believe it works, and we are happy to hear from you. We are going to have a public discussion about this,'" Dean said.