Howard Dean, who turned a successful presidential campaign into a national joke, will retire as DNC chair after making the same journey in reverse.  Dean will exit as one of the most successful DNC chairs in recent history, transforming the mission and technological infrastructure of the Democratic Party and delivering two successful national elections:

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.

Dean was far more successful than many of his critics predicted, myself included as well as some Democrats.  After pioneering a new model for national campaigning and electrifying the hard Left, most of us dismissed him after his meltdown in Iowa in January 2004.  The Dean Scream became an infamous emblem of his collapse, but had actually occured during the debate just before the Iowa caucuses, when Dean stumbled badly after Al Sharpton attacked him for not having more minority appointments in his terms as Vermont governor.

Even Democrats thought his 50-state strategy was a mistake, but in the end, he proved his critics wrong.  Dean rebuilt the Democratic Party as a force in previously safe Republican strongholds.  He set the stage for the revival of the Blue Dogs and the success of Barack Obama.  Dean confounded Republicans, who now have a difficult task ahead in catching up to Dean’s technological advances in national campaigning.

What would be next for Dean?  I doubt he’ll want to try another run for the Presidency after his meltdown in 2004, and I doubt Democrats would trust him again with that kind of support.  However, he may look for a seat in the Senate.  Patrick Leahy will have to make a decision on whether to run for re-election in 2010 at the end of his sixth term.  He will be 70 years old, not retirement age by the standards of Robert Byrd or the late Strom Thurmond, but perhaps an age when Leahy may feel he’s done enough.