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Divide and Bicker

But others felt the campaign should have been better prepared to play defense and that this contributed to the daily drip of damaging stories.

Senior officials, for instance, said they had never been able to gain access to the boxes of Dean records in O'Connor's garage or the files kept in her car trunk. Enright had reviewed tapes of Dean's appearances on a Canadian talk show from 1996 to 2002, but there was one tape she never got -- and NBC triggered a flap by reporting that Dean on that tape had disparaged the Iowa caucuses as "dominated by the special interests." The staff blamed O'Connor, who said she had never seen that tape and that the material in her Ford Focus was just news clips from Dean's gubernatorial days.

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)

Campaign officials said they also tried to get O'Connor to dig out old National Rifle Association questionnaires completed by Dean. Enright was blindsided when the New York Times obtained one from a rival campaign, showing that Dean had opposed restrictions on owning assault weapons -- a contradiction of his current position.

When Dean, despite raising $40 million, finished third in Iowa on Jan. 19, he ripped up his prepared remarks and started yelling on his campaign bus, officials said, proclaiming that the message of taking on Washington's entrenched interests hadn't worked, that the grass roots were a mirage and had let him down.

Trippi told him the front-runner's weight Dean had complained about, because it was forcing him to measure every word, had been lifted from his shoulders, according to accounts from colleagues. Trippi said Dean should tell his supporters that he'd only just begun to fight.

Dean walked into the ballroom and began screaming the names of states he intended to win, finishing with a guttural "Yeaaahhhh!!" In the days that followed, O'Connor minimized the impact of that moment.

"We didn't get to see television because we were on the road all the time," she said. "We had absolutely no idea it was being played all the time."

Returning to Vermont, O'Connor maintained in a meeting with Hollywood activist Rob Reiner, who had flown in to advise Dean, that people were overreacting to the high-decibel speech and voters didn't care. Reiner was flabbergasted at this attitude -- he wondered whether the staff was "crazy" -- and expressed amazement that they hadn't moved faster to neutralize the issue, two participants said.

The warfare continued over Dean's message, the outsider-against-Washington-special-interests pitch that Trippi had developed in a PowerPoint presentation, tested in polls and, despite O'Connor's concerns, used to sell the candidate to major labor unions.

Dean's policy director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, declared in an e-mail: "The message of the campaign is simply no longer our campaign vs. the special interests. This is not what the governor wants to be saying -- or frankly what he ever really wanted to be saying."

Joe Drymala, the chief speechwriter who received the e-mail, resigned in protest. "I refused to believe it because I didn't want to," he said. "To believe that was to believe that Howard Dean was a fraud."

Ben-Ami said he was explaining that Dean "wanted his message to be at least equally focused on solutions and his record." But Trippi argued that John Kerry and John Edwards had beaten them in Iowa by stealing the message.

Trippi, who had been courting former Gore aide Roy Neel as an addition to the team, started hearing rumors that Neel might replace him. He told O'Connor and Rogan that he was prepared to leave and there was no need for whispered meetings about his future. They assured him there was no effort to dump him.

Something in Common

On Jan. 28, the day after Dean lost New Hampshire, Trippi had his bags packed, ready to quit. Kathy Lash says she confronted O'Connor and Rogan in their office, saying that they had lied to her husband for days and that this was no way to treat him after all he had done.

O'Connor insisted she knew nothing until Dean and Neel sealed the deal that morning. "There was no 'Get Joe out of here.' I know people don't believe that," she said. Rogan said he had known for a couple of days that Dean was courting Neel but that "the governor was hoping Joe could accept he needed some help with his management skills and would see it as a positive."

When Dean delivered the news that Neel was getting the top job, Trippi declined an offer to stay on in a secondary role. McMahon repeatedly told Dean he was making a mistake, but Trippi told him to sit down, that he didn't want to make things harder for the governor. When Trippi and his wife left the building, they were surrounded by photographers and concluded the story had been leaked.

Trippi returned to his farm on Maryland's Eastern Shore, having earned $165,000 through his consulting firm, and signed on as an MSNBC pundit. When Dean bowed out from the presidential race on Feb. 18, Trippi was driving to Washington and could only hear the speech on Rush Limbaugh's radio show, fuming as Limbaugh made disparaging remarks. Afterward, he fought back tears.

"I wouldn't have done it for anybody else," Trippi said. "He really did inspire me. . . . But it came to a point where I realized I couldn't make a difference in his campaign anymore."

O'Connor thanked her longtime boss at an emotional staff meeting that day. "I came into this campaign not because I wanted to work in the White House or be a television commentator or write a book," she said. "I did it because Howard asked me to help him. My loyalty is to Howard."

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