Howard Dean Tells TPMDC: ‘Big Night’ For Progressives

May 18, 2010 10:30 p.m.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said in an interview that Tuesday’s elections look like a “pretty big sweep” for progressives. “They are having a big night,” he said.

“My belief is that progressive Dems are a lot more appealing to mainstream voters than tea party advocates,” Dean told me in an interview just after Rep. Joe Sestak was declared the winner over Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary.

“This is a big night for people who really want Washington to be a change agent,” Dean said, adding the results show a “backlash” against both parties in official Washington. Dean, also former governor of Vermont and a 2004 presidential candidate, said he views Jack Conway as the progressive choice in Kentucky and said Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s forcing of a runoff in Arkansas proves that candidates on the left can prevail.At the same time, Dean thinks Sestak is a Democrat in the mold of Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) — a centrist who was elected in 2006 in part thanks to online progressives supporting and funding his candidacy until it attracted national attention. “New progressives are the old centrists. Conway and Sestak will be pretty damn appealing to the middle of the road,” Dean said. “Joe is a bit of an iconoclast and that’s what you want in a race like this. Joe is a centrist with conviction politics.”

(He added that Halter would also appeal to the center, but it’s not clear how he’ll fare in that June 8 runoff against Sen. Blanche Lincoln.)

Dean said the results in Arkansas are positive for people seeking change in D.C. “It’s interesting to see these folks in Washington being squeezed. Arlen did everything asked of him, becoming a progressive Democrat and backing EFCA and health care and everything else. But he’s been in Washington for so long that hurt him, and that hurt Lincoln,” Dean said.

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