Union Tribune

January 29, 2004

Dean ousts top aide in major staff shake-up


ORANGEBURG, S.C. After consecutive defeats, Howard Dean yesterday shook up his flagging presidential campaign as it showed signs of financial problems, while John Kerry sought to consolidate his front-runner status by picking up endorsements here and elsewhere.

The Massachusetts senator and the other leading contenders for the Democratic nomination hopscotched across most of the seven states that will hold primaries and caucuses Tuesday while Dean huddled at his headquarters in Vermont with campaign advisers and overhauled his campaign.

Dean named Roy Neel, a top aide to former Vice President Al Gore, as chief executive officer of the campaign, prompting the resignation of campaign manager Joe Trippi.

The former Vermont governor also asked campaign staffers to defer their salaries for two weeks.

Those moves capped a dramatic reversal of fortune for Dean over the past two weeks, as he relinquished his front-runner status to Kerry after finishing third in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses and a distant second in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

In a late evening conference call with reporters, Dean portrayed the changes as organizational and denied they were a signal of trouble.

"I had felt for some time that we needed a strong organizational force in the office and had intended to bring in Roy as that organizational force," he said, adding that he had asked Trippi to stay on and work with the media and the ground campaign.

Dean said he regretted that Trippi resigned, calling him "an enormous asset" and denying that the two had any "substantive differences."

In hiring Neel, Dean has entrusted his campaign to part of the Washington establishment he has railed against. In addition to being a former top aide to Gore, who has endorsed Dean, Neel was a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry.

Trippi was widely regarded as the mastermind behind Dean's rise from an obscure, antiwar candidate to the leading contender for the nomination. But the Internet-fueled enthusiasm and fund raising that drove Dean to the front of the pack failed to translate into wins in Iowa or New Hampshire.

As for the austerity measures, Dean said, "We are having to husband our resources but we're not broke."

"I think you're going to see a leaner, meaner organization," he added. "We had geared up for a front-runner's campaign. It's not going to be a front-runner's campaign. It's going to be a long, long war of attrition."

Dean raised more than $40 million last year, far more than any of his rivals. But he spent huge sums on television ads as far back as June. While that helped boost him to front-runner status, his lack of success in Iowa and New Hampshire has forced a more frugal approach even though he must now compete on a bigger playing field.

Dean fund-raisers, working feverishly to restock the bank account, reported the campaign had about $5 million.

While other candidates, especially Kerry, are running ads in other states, Dean is not. Over the weekend, Dean pulled advertising from all states except New Hampshire. It is not clear when or whether he will begin advertising in the states voting Tuesday.

Kerry, riding a wave of momentum from his back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, is expected to pick up an endorsement in South Carolina from one of the state's most influential Democrats, Rep. Jim Clyburn.

Clyburn's embrace will almost certainly help Kerry build support among black voters, who analysts say may constitute up to half of the Democratic primary voters in South Carolina. The pending endorsement is a setback for North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who also had eagerly sought Clyburn's backing after Clyburn's first pick, Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, dropped out of the race after a finishing fourth in Iowa.

Kerry welcomed news of the endorsement, but told reporters in Missouri, "I'm still going to make this a campaign about people."

While experts debate the practical impact of endorsements, Kerry's seemed to validate his front-runner status.

"The establishment Democrats are really forming behind Kerry. Clyburn is taking his place among the political leaders," said Blease Graham, an expert on state politics at the University of South Carolina.

Edwards was born in South Carolina and has said a win here is crucial to keep his campaign viable. He finished a surprising second in Iowa but finished fourth in New Hampshire behind retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

Edwards told reporters that he respected Clyburn, but added, "I think most of his supporters and organization are with us."

In a jab at his opponents, Edwards told supporters: "I will not forget where South Carolina is after Feb. 3. I will be back to campaign in the fall."

Kerry has suggested a Democratic nominee could prevail in November without winning the Republican-leaning South.

The candidates also focused considerable attention on Missouri, which awards the most delegates among the seven states voting on Tuesday. Kerry flew in for a quick but attention-getting rally at a community college near St. Louis before moving on to South Carolina.

Edwards and civil rights activist Al Sharpton also paid visits to Missouri. A poll released yesterday showed Kerry leading in Missouri with 25 percent to Edwards' 9 percent. Dean was at 6 percent, Clark had 3 percent and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman had 2 percent. The Kansas City Star said its poll was conducted before the New Hampshire results could affect voter opinions.

There hadn't been much of a campaign in Missouri because the other candidates had planned to cede the state to favorite-son Gephardt, whose sudden exit from the race left the state up for grabs.

Given that, and the expense of waging an extensive TV advertising campaign in such a large state, Kerry's momentum from Iowa and New Hampshire is likely to make a big impact in Missouri, according to University of Missouri professor William Benoit.

Kerry won endorsements in Missouri from St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and former Sens. Jean Carnahan and Thomas Eagleton. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack also was expected to endorse Kerry, after remaining neutral in that state's caucuses, which revived Kerry's campaign.

Edwards touted support from Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo.; former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver; and Missouri Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell.

Kerry's success also has bolstered his campaign finances and he plans to run television ads in all seven states in play Tuesday.

"We have to build. We have to grow," Kerry told reporters, saying his campaign would remain focused on the economy and health care.

But Kerry's rivals were far from rolling over, vowing to wage a tough fight in Tuesday's contests. "Now we're going to places where I feel I will be very strong," Edwards said during an appearance at South Carolina State University. Clark touched down in New Mexico and Arizona.

Edwards, Clark and Lieberman also swooped into Oklahoma. Democrats in Delaware and North Dakota also vote Tuesday.

All of the candidates are expected to be together again in South Carolina today for a televised debate in Greenville.