DEAN TO DEPART THE DNC…. I very clearly remember the reaction from the political establishment when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was chosen to head the Democratic National Committee. Most responded with two words, “Uh oh.”

Four years and two very successful campaign cycles later, Dean’s achievements as chairman are unquestioned, and the benefits of his innovative 50-state strategy are self-evident. We learned today that Dean is departing the DNC, but he’ll leave as something of a hero. Sam Stein reports:

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.

Rumor has it that Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a close Obama ally and effective campaign surrogate, is a leading candidate to fill Dean’s shoes, with Steve Hildebrand, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, likely to take over day-to-day operations at the DNC.

But no matter who is selected, Dean has left an indelible mark on how the party operates, and how it approaches national elections. Indeed, for all of Dean’s detractors — inside the Democratic Party and out — the former governor leaves knowing that his strategy was vindicated, thanks to unambiguous election results.

Stein added that Dean’s vision is “poised to become party orthodoxy,” and Dean may even “extract promises from all potential replacement candidates to preserve the 50-state-strategy.” Even his would-be successors are smart, this won’t take too much arm-twisting.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.