UPDATE: Marc Ambinder reports that Plouffe sent him an email saying he won't be taking the DNC chair. But Plouffe wouldn't say what he might be doing post-election.
Howard Dean is stepping down as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. This is no surprise; it's been known for months he would be departing after the election. The question is, who's next?
HuffingtonPost reports one possibility is that Dean will be replaced by a duo: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who would be the talk-show face of the party, and an operative who would do the operating (perhaps Steve Hildebrand, who was deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama's presidential bid).
But shouldn't the DNC job go to David Plouffe?
As the manager of Obama's campaign, Plouffe steered the best-run presidential campaign in years. He put together an effective campaign structure. He efficiently matched man, message, money, and machine. Developing his own version of Dean's 50-state strategy, Plouffe expanded the electoral map for Democrats. In public, he projected an image of calm, confidence, and competence. His public spin was always tethered to reality. He came across a master mechanic who believed in the mission, not an ideologue or a grandstander. And he beat the toughest, most experienced operation in politics: the Clintons.
It's no put-down of McCaskill to suggest Plouffe. Naming her DNC chief--with or without a partner--would have symbolic value. And she was an effective advocate for Obama, especially when he was locked in a fierce battle with Senator Hillary Clinton, though Obama appears to have lost her home state by 6000 votes. Perhaps if McCaskill becomes DNC head, that would help Obama and Dems narrow that narrow gap next time.
But Job One of the new DNC chair is to win the 2010 congressional elections as a prelude to winning reelection for Barack Obama in 2012. The party doesn't need a visionary or public leader in the position. Obama can handle those tasks. (The party on the outs is the one that requires a posterboy or postergirl who is good on television.) The Democrats need an uber-operative who can simultaneously oversee scores of critical House and Senate races, supervise the early reelection effort, and chart out the overall mission of advancing the party's interests across the country. The next DNC chair should also know a thing or two about fundraising and be able to transform the party into the receptacle for all the grassroots energy and passion that poured into the Obama campaign. Who better than Plouffe to do all this?
Maybe he doesn't want the job. (His wife just gave birth to their second child.) And there have been far-fetched rumors that Plouffe, a Delaware native, could be appointed to fill Joe Biden's Senate seat. But Obama's victory is transformational in many ways, and one potential transformation could occur at the Democratic Party, with the party becoming something of a central command and midwife for a diverse array of Internet-enabled grassroots activity across the country in support of the Obama presidency and its policy initiatives. Making that happen would certainly increase the odds that the Obama presidency will be a successful one. Judging by the election results, Plouffe is someone who can turn a heady vision like that into an on-the-ground reality.
This was first posted at MotherJones.com.