After disappointing finishes in New Hampshire and Iowa, Howard Dean is shaking up his presidential campaign staff, replacing campaign manager Joe Trippi with Roy Neel, former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore, ABCNEWS has learned.
Trippi was offered the title of senior adviser, but he decided to resign, campaign sources said.
In an emotional meeting with members of the Burlington, Vt.-based staff this afternoon, Trippi thanked them for their hard work and vowed to continue to fight for Dean's candidacy.
Dean was in the room and acknowledged Trippi. The two did not shake hands as Trippi walked out the door, though sources said the men had briefly hugged at the conclusion of an earlier private meeting.
Neel joined the former Vermont governor's campaign in December as a senior adviser. His official title will be chief executive officer. He is not yet in Burlington.
Trippi, a brilliant strategist but by his own admission a poor manager, played an enormous role in the development of the Dean campaign — the fund-raising, the Internet strategy, and the message.
For a while, Trippi was Dean's alter ego — and vice versa, whispering many of the signature lines that made Dean Dean. He became campaign manager in early March, replacing Rick Ridder. His media firm, Trippi, McMahon and Squier, had been Dean's ad makers during 10 years of gubernatorial races.
Trippi ruled the campaign's organization with an iron fist, hiring political and field staffers — many of them quite young — who were loyal to him. In the process, he clashed with members of the Vermont guard loyal to Dean, like Kate O'Connor, Dean's longtime aide, and Bob Rogan, the campaign's deputy chief of staff.
Trippi has been criticized by fellow members of his staff for being a poor and undisciplined manager. But even those who fought with him often praise his penchant for big ideas, for ingenious political and strategic moves (such as the co-endorsements of two at-war unions, AFSCME and SEIU), and his skill at sharing Dean's message early on.
Dean Upset by Iowa
The changes come a day after Dean came in second in the New Hampshire primary and a little more than a week after his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
Dean was said by several sources who are close to him to have been very upset by what happened in Iowa. Some on the staff blamed Trippi in part, for being disorganized and for running poor-quality television advertisements.
Dean and Trippi also had disagreements over spending. Dean is very tight with his budgets and would often veto ideas Trippi proposed.
After Iowa, Dean essentially transferred the campaign's executive authority to his New Hampshire state director, Karen Hicks.Trippi went home to Burlington to plot strategy and plan for February.
Neel's hiring reflects Gore's influence in the campaign. The former vice president has spoken to Dean several times since Iowa and helped to convince him to give Neel a higher profile. Gore has been critical of Trippi in these conversations, according to sources, but he did not recommend his firing.
A person close to the campaign said Trippi declined an offer to supervise Internet strategy on a day-to-day basis.
And campaign officials wonder whether a campaign without Trippi at the helm can be as creative. It is, after all, still peopled with Trippi's hires, and he has many loyalists among the staff.