The former Vermont governor was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, replacing Terry McAuliffe.

The resurgence of Dean, an early and fierce critic of the Iraq war and President George Bush, comes three months after a presidential election that some Democrats saw as a signal the party needed a more moderate approach to broaden its appeal in the southern and mountain states.

But Dean countered those concerns and wooed party leaders with promises to focus on state operations, energise the party's grass roots and build an army of small donors similar to the one that supported his presidential bid.

The election offers vindication and a new role for Dean, the one-time presidential frontrunner who attracted young voters to the party and broke Democratic records with his internet-based fundraising before his campaign ran out of steam.

Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire soured on Dean's blunt style and turned to what they viewed as a more electable alternative in Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who lost the campaign to Bush in November.