For all the low-level warfare between what was termed the "Washington faction" and the "Vermont faction," O'Connor does not believe the disagreements damaged Dean's effort. "Maybe I'm just naive," she said. "Maybe it did and I'm oblivious to the fact that it hurt the campaign."
Bob Rogan, the deputy campaign manager and, like O'Connor, a longtime Vermont aide to Dean, believes the criticism is overblown.
Howard Dean campaigning in New Hampshire four days before a costly loss in that state's Jan. 27 primary.
(Laurie Swope For The Washington Post)
"While it's easy to blame the Vermonters, I'm not going to participate in the blame game," Rogan said. "It's ridiculous to think that Kate, Howard and I ran this into the mountain on our own."
Back in 2002, there was just Howard Dean, an obscure small-state governor, and Kate O'Connor, who had managed his Vermont campaigns and was running the presidential effort out of her house.
Trippi, a national political veteran and Internet consultant whose Alexandria firm had handled Dean's Vermont advertising, signed on as campaign manager in February 2003.
Even when there were just a handful of staffers, Dean and Trippi had trouble seeing eye to eye. Trippi complained to others that the candidate -- and O'Connor, who was always by his side -- didn't trust him.
On a plane ride that spring, Dean asked Trippi about working out a contract for his salary and for his consulting firm to handle the advertising. As Trippi has recounted to several colleagues, he told Dean to deal with his partner McMahon because he didn't want a salary and wasn't doing this for the money. Dean's response, according to these accounts, was to tell another staffer that he would not give Trippi financial control of the campaign because "he doesn't care about money and I don't want anyone who doesn't care about money managing the money."
A pattern of suspicion and doubt had been set. When Trippi, who worked from a messy office with a beat-up couch in the Burlington, Vt., headquarters, had trouble reaching Dean on the road, he became convinced that O'Connor wasn't giving him the messages. O'Connor dismissed that complaint, saying, "Nobody who wanted to talk to the governor couldn't get to him."
Even the highest-ranking advisers found Dean resistant to changing his approach. Dean strategists say campaign chairman Steve Grossman repeatedly urged the candidate to talk about treating patients as a physician and expressed frustration that Dean never took the advice.
"Unfortunately Howard never took advantage of that unique quality and experience he had, that of being a doctor," Grossman said. Had Dean used more "personal examples" involving patients, it "would have humanized him and created more of an emotional link between him and the voters."
Trippi dispatched various aides to accompany Dean and O'Connor on the road, but problems developed each time. One said he was viewed as "Trippi's spy." Another said O'Connor would "kill" people she viewed as insufficiently loyal. A third said staffers were frightened of "the wrath of Kate." As fundraising surged and the campaign was rapidly expanding, Trippi tried to hire several seasoned pros but told colleagues that O'Connor had blocked his efforts.
"Completely false," said O'Connor. "I didn't meddle in hiring." She said Trippi refused to hire some people suggested by Dean, which Trippi confirmed.
But O'Connor saw herself as standing up for Dean. "If Washington people wanted to change a position, Kate would be the first one to say no, because she knows how long and how adamantly the governor held a particular position," said Sue Allen, Dean's longtime Vermont spokeswoman.
"She had the thankless job of keeping him on message. He's the kind of guy who will chat with somebody and change his opinion. She would control access, and that angers people. . . . She's a handy scapegoat."
David Bender, the New York senior deputy campaign director, said that when O'Connor complained about exhaustion and he suggested some time off, "she looked at me with a ferocity in her manner and voice and said: 'I know they want to get rid of me. . . . I will do this job if I have to do it from a hospital bed hooked up to an IV because I'm the only one who protects Howard. Everyone else wants something from him.' "