Joe Trippi, left, once Howard Dean's campaign strategist, keeps a hand in domestic politics with Maryland Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume.
Joe Trippi, left, once Howard Dean's campaign strategist, keeps a hand in domestic politics with Maryland Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
Monday, April 10, 2006

A little more than two years ago, Joe Trippi was the hottest strategist in U.S. politics. He was a new-age campaign guru harnessing the power of the Internet to push Howard Dean to the brink of the Democratic nomination for president.

Now he is helping promote actor Nick Nolte's career, hoping Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's no-sex pledge won't win over voters and contemplating a return to presidential politics.

Operating from his house in rural Maryland, Trippi, 49, is one of the scores of erstwhile election strategists who have moved from the spotlight of presidential campaigns to the anonymity of all-purpose consulting in the Washington area. His company is Trippi and Associates.

Trippi, who was credited with Dean's unexpected rise in the primaries and than partly faulted for the former Vermont governor's precipitous fall, remains enchanted with the potential of the Internet to transform politics. He is writing a second book on the topic and delivers speeches on Web politics. "I love the Internet, man," he said. But his consulting work is of a more traditional kind.

Trippi is working with Republican strategist Frank Luntz on the campaign by European Commission President Romano Prodi to unseat Berlusconi in the Italian prime minister's race. Berlusconi made headlines worldwide in January when he promised to abstain from sex until after the election, which concludes today. "We worry about wiretapping, and [he] is promising no sex," Trippi said.

Here in the States, Trippi has one eye on the big screen. Lionsgate, coming off its Oscar-winning smash "Crash," has hired him to help promote "Peaceful Warrior," a film about a gymnast on a spiritual journey. Nolte stars in the film.

Trippi has not left domestic politics altogether. He is advising several candidates, including Maryland Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume, and keeping a close watch on the 2008 presidential field.

He said he no longer speaks with Dean, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The two had a falling out in the final months of Dean's campaign over tactics and style and have crossed paths only once since Dean dropped out of the race. "I have a healthy understanding for why the Beatles did not get back together," Trippi said. "We may have been the political Beatles."

Still, Trippi wants to do it again if a 2008 candidate comes calling. "I am sick enough to do it, yes," he said. "I don't think anyone would be crazy enough to hire me, but I would be crazy enough to do it."

-- Jim VandeHei

© 2006 The Washington Post Company