In bid to save his candidacy, Dean names new top adviser

Aide to Al Gore replaces manager who had devised pioneering Web campaign

Election 2004

On The Campaign Trail

January 29, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Howard Dean, struggling to save his presidential bid after crushing losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, shook up his campaign yesterday, tapping a close aide to Al Gore to replace the campaign manager who had orchestrated Dean's fast rise.

The startling shift at the top of the campaign came amid signs that Dean, who just weeks ago was flush with cash and sailing along as the Democratic front-runner, was running out of money just before a flurry of costly primaries and caucuses. Those contests could make or break his candidacy.

The former Vermont governor asked Roy Neel, a longtime top Gore adviser, to take charge of the campaign. That move led Joe Trippi, the campaign manager who was regarded as a folk hero among Dean's supporters, to resign.

Staff members were also asked to forgo their paychecks for two weeks while the campaign decides how to spend its dwindling resources. Dean's campaign treasury was only recently estimated at $40 million, far in excess of those of other Democrats vying for the nomination.

"We are having to husband our resources," Dean said in a conference call last night with reporters. "We're worried about money and we want to be careful about money, but we're not broke."

The upheaval at Dean's headquarters seemed to hint at bigger problems for his candidacy, leaving open the possibility that disheartened supporters could lose faith in Dean's bid at the very moment when he is most in need of money and momentum.

Dean made the decisions at his Burlington, Vt., home base as his rivals hit the campaign trail in crucial states. Dean said that Neel, formerly a top telecommunications lobbyist, would bring sorely needed organization to a campaign that had never expected to fall into so swift a decline.

"We had really geared up for what we thought was going to be a front-runner campaign," Dean said. "It's not a front-runner campaign. It's going to be a long war of attrition."

The selection of Neel, who Dean said would be a "centralizing force," marks a stark change of course. The Dean campaign had won broad support and raised huge sums with its Internet-fueled grass-roots approach. Trippi was the architect of that strategy.

Celebrity status

Trippi, who sometimes seemed almost as big a celebrity as Dean himself, was widely regarded as the figure who essentially invented Dean as a strong presidential candidate. He harnessed the Web to raise record amounts of campaign cash and to organize a formidable network of backers.

"I may be out of the campaign, but I'm not out of the fight," Trippi said in a statement last night. In it, he exhorted supporters: "Don't give up -- stay with Howard Dean's cause to change America."

Dean said he had asked Trippi to stay on, and still hopes to persuade him to return.

"Joe has made enormous contributions, not just to our campaign but to American politics -- revolutionizing the way in which people are brought into the democratic process and helping hundreds of thousands of people to believe in political change again," Dean said.

It is not the first time that a presidential campaign has remade itself while trying to regain its footing in the thick of a bruising race. Sen. John Kerry did so late last year when his campaign was floundering, replacing Democratic strategist Jim Jordan with Mary Beth Cahill, who was the chief of staff to fellow Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Ronald Reagan shook up his 1980 presidential campaign after losing badly to George Bush in the Iowa caucuses, which Reagan had been favored to win.

Campaign crossroads

But Dean's overhaul comes at the most precarious time in the race. His campaign is facing grave decisions about where to focus its resources going into the next round of primaries Tuesday, when contests will be held in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

With zero victories under his belt, Dean must decide whether to compete vigorously for a win in one or several of those states -- which could help revive his flagging bid -- or to concentrate on other delegate-rich contests such as Michigan on Feb. 7 and Wisconsin Feb 17.

Trippi was thought to believe that the campaign should limit its efforts to compete in Tuesday's contests and instead pour resources into making a strong showing in important states down the road. But Dean denied that a difference of opinion over which states to focus on next had played a role in the shake-up.

"This campaign is a marathon, not a sprint," the candidate said. "I am committed to carrying our campaign through the coming weeks to primaries and caucuses all across the country."

`Like our Yoda'

Dean's campaign Web blog came alive yesterday afternoon with news of Trippi's departure, with some praising his contributions to the campaign and others critical of the 25-year veteran of Democratic politics. Many noted his vital role in Dean's organization.

"He's been kind of like our Yoda here" read one typical posting, "and I think he's changed politics forever."

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