The Front-Runner's Fall

via Dean Nation alum Karl Frisch, The Atlantic Monthly has an in-depth article on the Dean campaign, written by insider and pollster Paul Maslin. It's an even-handed look that portrays Joe Trippi as a genius-enfant-terrible, Dean as an impetous and often unpredictable candidate, and the overall operation as one characterized by flashes of brilliance puntucated by - in hindsight - massive oversights. Maslin does not shy away acepting blame, either. Here's an important excerpt:

We were acutely conscious that any sustained flight of television advertising�we were considering running ads for two weeks�was going to take a big bite out of our cap. I assumed that we would proceed carefully and not consider airing anything until after the Fourth of July. So imagine my surprise when Howard Dean burst into our Burlington headquarters on the afternoon of Friday, June 6, followed not long after by Joe Trippi, and announced that we were going to "go up" in Iowa.

"Kerry's planning to go up," Dean said. "We've got to be there first. We can't let him get the jump on us."
Howard Dean and Joe Trippi, although their work styles were such that they rarely spoke to each other (and they would ultimately part ways), were nevertheless on the exact same tactical page most of the time�if not always for the same reason. And when they were, bold action usually ensued.
We learned dangerous lessons from those ads: that we could work fast, with virtually no preparation; that it paid to be bold; and that we could spend money at a time that no sane campaign ever would or ever had. In late August, after Dean had completed a triumphant national tour, Trippi decided to push more chips onto the table and persuaded us to spend a million dollars on advertising in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin. Jeani Murray, our Iowa state director, had a simple and blunt reaction: "And nothing for Iowa?"

This is a painful read in some ways. In hindsight we recognize the genius of Trippi's Iowa-New Hampshire gamble, given that it was exactly how John Kerry succeeded. The game plan was thus proven valid - but our team was the one that ddn't follow it. There's a lot more in this lengthy article that reveals how the flaws in execution, and the simple human flaws of the candidate and the campaign manager, combined to keep ultimate victory just out of reach.

It's essential reading. If you read nothing else today, read this essay now. And somehow, despite it being painful, it also comforts me... perhaps Dean's role all along was indeed to influence Kerry, and forge him into the better candidate. For the first time, I start to wonder if the Dean campaign could have taken on Bush after all.

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