News that former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean was pushing aside longtime political adviser Joe Trippi for Al Gore's former Senate chief of staff and consigliere Roy Neel began leaking late Wednesday afternoon, after a number of congressman had heard the news from Dean himself on a conference call.
In a hastily called meeting at Dean campaign headquarters, Trippi told tearful staff members that he was out, despite his boss's insisting that Trippi was staying on.
Trippi was credited with molding Dean into the national candidate he had become until the Dean team failed to stem the negative press that inundated Iowa and led to their candidate's downfall in the polls. Dean's decision may be the death knell of his campaign. Trippi was viewed by many of Dean's Internet and volunteer supporters as the visionary leader of the Dean phenomenon.
Dean apparently had made the decision on Neel, a longtime Gore adviser, in the hours after his Iowa meltdown. In Dean's conversations with Gore over the weekend before the New Hampshire primary, the former vice president suggested Neel as the man to get the campaign's organization back on track.
Instead of immediately heading down to South Carolina or to Missouri from News Hampshire, Dean gathered his braintrust in Burlington Wednesday for a strategy session. Early in the day, according to sources, he told Trippi that Neel was coming on board as chief executive officer of the campaign. He asked Trippi to stay on. Trippi declined.
"It wasn't said explicitly, but there is a sense here that Neel could do for our guy what [former Gore adviser] Bob Shrum did for John Kerry," says a Dean adviser. "It may be too late, though. This thing has the feel of a slowly leaking lifeboat."
On the Wednesday afternoon conference call, Dean told his congressional supporters that he intended to fight for his political life in every state holding a primary or caucus on February 3. This appeared to counter the strategy that Trippi had been discussing with reporters in New Hampshire on Tuesday night. There, the campaign manager was insisting that Dean, in need of wins, would focus on states that were battleground and winnable states. States discussed as viable for Dean included New Mexico, which uses a caucus format, and Arizona on February 3, Michigan and Washington on February 7 and Wisconsin on February 17 as viable for Dean. Now that strategy would appear to be dead.
Neel had been serving as an adviser to Dean after the Vermonter received the endorsement of Neel's old boss Gore. Prior to yesterday's announcement, there was little to indicate that Neel was seeking any larger role in the campaign.
It should be noted as well that Roy Neel was also suggested to Howard Dean by leaders of the AFSCME and SEIU unions, who were demanding winning results from Dean ... or else. While no one in the Dean camp called the conversations ultimatums, sources inside the Dean campaign said that both AFSCME president Gerald McEntee and SEIU president Andrew Stern made it clear to Dean senior advisers that the candidate must win in next week's races or face the prospect that both unions will publicly announce that they are reconsidering their endorsements and support.
"It's embarrassing for Dean, but it's not embarrassing if we jump horses midstream," says an AFSCME lobbyist in Washington. "You think [John] Kerry is going to turn us down? We went first with the man who best suited our interests. If we change, we say we're now supporting the man who has shown he can address our top priority, and that is the end of the Bush administration."
AFL-CIO president John Sweeney has said little about where his union -- of which AFSCME and the SEIU are a part -- stands on an overall endorsement. Many of the AFL-CIO's manufacturing unions had endorsed Rep. Dick Gephardt, and many of those unions began looking to Sen. John Edwards in the aftermath of his strong showing in Iowa.
"Despite the wrangling, organized labor is going to end up backing the winner. It has to," says a DNC fundraiser. "If Kerry is the frontrunner, you're going to see labor jump on his bandwagon fast, because without a strong, labor-backed Democratic candidate, the party doesn't have a strong candidate. The candidates understand that, the unions understand that, and the party understands that."
KERRY'S CAROLINA COUP
The endorsement from South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn would appear to seal the deal for Sen. John Kerry in next week's primary there. Clyburn is expected of mobilize the African-American vote for Kerry in the Palmetto State, putting him over the top and allowing him to edge out homegrown Sen. John Edwards. Kerry camp insiders believe a win in South Carolina and in Missouri next week will all but end the campaign for the Democratic nomination.
"It's about big-footing the competition, and a win down south and a big delegate haul in Missouri does that," says a Kerry insider in Washington. "We're looking at a big, national campaign-style media buy in Missouri for the next week. We're looking at hitting all the right notes. If we do over the next ten days what we did in Iowa and New Hampshire, Dean and Edwards are toast February 4, the 8th by the latest, and are begging for a role in our presidential campaign."
A Kerry win in South Carolina, Missouri and, say, New Mexico -- where he is being endorsed by former Clinton cabinet member Henry Cisneros, who will campaign with Kerry over the next couple of days -- appears to cut off one more state that the Dean campaign had been banking on. Three weeks ago, Dean was leading in polls in New Mexico. The latest shows him running fourth, behind Kerry, Edwards and Wesley Clark.
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