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Divide and Bicker

"Everyone worked their heart out," McMahon said, "whether they had been around Howard a long time or a short time. The system that Howard set up and Howard liked was a lot of different people giving him a lot of different advice simultaneously. That's not necessarily the best way to run a presidential campaign, but it was the way he was comfortable with."

The strains of the campaign, meanwhile, were exacerbating Trippi's diabetes. On a June visit to California, his blood sugar level got so high that he lost his vision for several hours. But he disregarded medical advice and kept working around the clock.

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)

Money and Myths

By the fall, the Dean operation was using its Internet savvy to raise more money than any Democratic campaign in history but was spending it almost as quickly. Trippi, who said he regrets some of the early spending on television ads, tried to stop what he saw as marginal expenses, such as the hiring of a communications director in Maine, the 11th state to vote. Trippi openly grumbled about Dean giving the financial authority to deputy campaign manager Rogan. He and two other senior officials said they were mystified that the amounts they were told they had in the bank would abruptly shrink by millions of dollars after spending decisions had been made.

"With 20/20 hindsight, the biggest mistake I made was not to demand ironclad authority over the budget and check-writing," Trippi said. "Bob Rogan is a really good person, one of the best I've met in politics, but he had never run a presidential campaign before and it made no sense to put him in that position."

Said Rogan: "The revisionist historians are hard at work. Together we made some mistakes, all of us. What I managed was the checkbook, not the spending decisions. . . . It's preposterous to suggest I was the one making those decisions unilaterally." He said Dean, Trippi, McMahon and pollster Paul Maslin were all involved, a point confirmed by McMahon.

Despite the sniping, Dean made the cover of Time and Newsweek, Trippi made the cover of the New Republic, and the Howard Dean phenomenon was taking the country by storm. Trippi seemed to be engaging in false modesty when he kept telling reporters, "The biggest myth in American politics is that Joe Trippi is running the Dean campaign." Few grasped at the time that he was sending a veiled message, and that he felt the campaign ship might soon hit an iceberg.

While he was talked out of quitting in October, Trippi clearly had never bonded with Dean.

"We talked a lot on the phone, but we never became best buds," Trippi said. "I respect him a lot more than I liked him. I think he respected me a lot more than he liked me."

The Schism Widens

Kate O'Connor knew about the Al Gore endorsement. Joe Trippi didn't. He blamed O'Connor. He also blamed Howard Dean.

It was early December, and Dean and Gore had agreed to keep quiet about the former vice president's plan to announce his support within days, fearing a premature leak. Trippi grew suspicious when staffers were asked to charter a large plane to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He asked Dean, who said someone would be endorsing him but he couldn't tell Trippi who it was. Trippi reminded him that he was the campaign manager. But Dean wouldn't budge.

The larger message was that O'Connor had known and the Washington faction had not. O'Connor said she was simply doing what Dean and Gore wanted. What no one knew was that this would be the high point and that the corrosive sense of mistrust would eat away at the campaign at the worst possible time.

Over the next six weeks, Dean's rivals escalated their attacks on his fitness for the White House, and he was hit by an avalanche of negative headlines. "Every media organization and reporter went after us because, you know, take down the front-runner," he told CNN.

But Dean also started making high-profile mistakes. After the seizure of Saddam Hussein, Dean's top political aides scripted a San Francisco speech in which the candidate would say that although his opposition to the Iraq war was unchanged, the capture was a victory for the American military. At the last minute, Dean added a line that the country was no safer, sparking a new controversy.

It was during this period that some senior officials became convinced that Dean wasn't serious about doing what it takes to win the White House, especially when he refused repeated requests to ask his wife, Judith Steinberg Dean, to make even an occasional campaign appearance. Dean did not respond to an interview request, but O'Connor believes he never wavered in his desire to be president.

Still, she said, "he didn't expect to be there" as the front-runner, and they were surprised at the intensity of the media barrage. "We never anticipated the constant getting beaten up over something every single day," O'Connor said.

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