Howard Dean’s evolution on Hillary Clinton is good news for Hillary Clinton

August 19, 2014

In this Aug. 13, 2014, photo, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton holds her memoir "Hard Choices" at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, in Vineyard Haven, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In the last year, Howard Dean has gone from Hillary Clinton skeptic to perfunctory supporter to full-bore cheerleader.

"I am a huge Hillary Clinton fan," Dean told CNN's Peter Hamby in a story published Tuesday. "I just am. Not because I hope to get a job. I know her; I've known her for a long time. I think she has an enormous mental capacity to do analysis and let the chips fall where they may."

The former Vermont governor's words of support are welcome news for Clinton, still facing some lingering skepticism about Clinton in the Democratic Party's liberal base. Dean is beloved in that wing of the party and could become an ambassador of sorts for her.

Dean added, "If she is president, which I hope she is, I think she is going to be a terrific president."

That's a step up from where Dean, a favorite of liberals who caught fire for a while in the 2004 Democratic primary before losing to John Kerry, has been in recent months.

"At this point, I’m supporting Hillary Clinton," Dean told the Des Moines Register last August. ("At this point" certainly left him plenty of wiggle room.) He reiterated that stance in an interview with Post Politics in April.

Rewind back to June of 2013, and Dean was openly skeptical. He acknowledged he was thinking about running for president again and said of Clinton, "She is not going to have a pass. There will be other people who will run."

Now, he sounds like a Clinton surrogate, defending the distance she recently put between herself and President Obama on foreign policy.

"You think if she comes out as a clone of anybody she has any chance at winning? People don't want clones as president. So of course she is going to say stuff that's different. So what? This is news?" he told Hamby.

Dean says he still thinks Clinton will draw a challenger if she runs. But it's pretty clear it won't be him.

Even as Dean heaped praise on Clinton, he may have also inadvertently fueled a line of attack against her.

"Hillary, she has been on the scene since, what, 1992?" he told Hamby. "To elect Hillary, the country would have to do something we've only done once in my lifetime, with Reagan over Carter, which is the country would have to go back a generation. Usually, you don't go back."

At a time when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has called Clinton "yesterday's news" and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has labeled her a "20th century candidate," the last thing Clinton needs is an ally raising her long stay in politics as a potential trouble spot.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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