Salena Zito

Americans have a stunning visual of what political “owesies” can be, thanks to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s bleep-filled pursuit of political paybacks.

Yet there is a more reasonable side to rewarding individuals who help a candidate to win.

Two of the more deserving outside of Barack Obama’s Chicago network are Sen. Ted Kennedy and outgoing Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean.

“While Kennedy provided Sen. Obama with the imprimatur of a legitimate Democratic candidate, one in particular who was more liberal rather than centrist, Gov. Dean was more important for Sen. Obama’s campaign,” says Villanova University political science professor Lara Brown.

Brown believes Dean’s stridency regarding the nomination calendar and punishing the “rogue states” of Michigan and Florida was critical to Obama's win.

Add to that Dean’s “50-state program” (putting political workers and cash in every state), his awakening of the progressive movement, and the “net-roots” Internet blueprint he created during his failed 2004 presidential run, and you’d think Dean would be welcomed by the new administration.

So far, not so much.

The perfect place for Dean, Democratic insiders argue, would have been as Health and Human Services secretary, which went to the Democrats’ former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle. Word is that Daschle was reluctant to take such a bureaucratic position, so a czar-like power was added by having him oversee a new White House health-reform office.

“Daschle is much better-suited,” says Franklin and Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna. “He knows senators … and has the experience it will take to work with the Congress” on such issues as universal health-care coverage. “Dean has been too much of an outsider to help Obama here.”

Madonna argues against rewarding Dean for doing the right thing. “Do we give him credit for upholding his own party's rules -- he gets a reward for doing what's right? This is not a profile-in-courage here.”

Yet Villanova’s Brown is unsure, based on all Dean has done, why he does not appear to be moving into the administration.

Republican strategist Kent Gates theorizes that this reflects “a total Rahm (Emanuel) block.”

The clash between the two party chairs during the 2006 midterm election is legendary: Emanuel ran the party’s congressional arm back then and divided bitterly with Dean over cash. With Emanuel now Obama's right-hand man, it makes sense that Dean’s name is not being circulated.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.