Salena Zito

“He was so effective in his messaging that, by the end, all of the other candidates had adopted it,” he said.

Carney adds that Dean’s Iowa meltdown is a myth: “New Hampshire had already turned towards Kerry.”

Both Carney and Morehouse think Dean’s metamorphosis into Democratic Party chair has been effective for similar reasons but from very different angles.

Morehouse, now president of the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL franchise, now looks at politics from the outside.

“From my vantage point, Dean took the DNC from almost an exclusively fundraising club and has moved it into the grassroots realm,” he says. He believes Dean’s recognition of his own success at raising money on the Internet as a candidate helped to change the DNC from such a fundraising-heavy organization.

“Instead, Dean implemented the 50-state program and started spending money on building grass roots in states where no Democrat had tried before -- party-building in not just traditional blue states but ruby-red states,” Morehouse explains.

Yet Carney sees Dean’s inability to raise money as a problem. According to the latest Federal Election Commission filings, the Republican National Committee has raised $143.3 million -- almost double the DNC's $77.6 million.

“Howard has problems raising money from the big power brokers. They are less than willing to hand him over money,” Carney said. But he agrees with Morehouse’s assessment of Dean’s impact on the party: “His effectiveness lies with the rank-and-file Democrats and the individual state parties.”

Carney believes Dean’s other weakness has been an inability to herd the party’s superdelegates during the run-up to the final primary contests between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It is too early to know what toll that rivalry will have on the party overall.

While Obama is the candidate most similar to Dean in positions and innovations, it was Dean who recognized early on in his campaign that Democrats needed to reach out to white working-class voters in order to win a general election.

Dean took much heat for referring to them as “guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks,” but they are the voters who went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton during the primaries.

Which is another lesson Obama would do well to learn from the ever evolving Dean.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.