Trippi: Top Dems’ fundraising success leaves ‘no excuses’

Joe Trippi, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s (D) 2004 campaign manager, said the top 2008 Democratic presidential candidates have the money they need to get out their message.

If they fail to do so, “There will be no excuses,” Trippi said.

Trippi, the architect of Dean’s unprecedented but ultimately failed presidential bid, said in an interview with The Hill that the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) have embraced a hybrid fundraising model bridging the techniques of old with the successes of the Dean campaign.

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By combining the traditional fundraising model, maxing out big donors at $2,000-a-plate dinners, with the Dean model of amassing small donations online, the leading Democratic candidates — Obama in particular — are more in need of a message than additional money, Trippi said.

“All that money does not win you a state. We had the money … for whatever reason, it didn’t work.”

Trippi noted that in 2003, Dean came in last in first-quarter fundraising with about $2.6 million. However, since the governor had relied entirely on “low-dollar” donations, his campaign was able to go back to the same donors.
As a result, the Dean campaign built momentum by performing significantly better with each passing quarter.

By contrast, Trippi said, the campaigns of Edwards, Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and eventual nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), which relied heavily on maxing out donors early on, saw declines with each quarter.

“If that continues to hold true, you would expect Hillary Clinton’s numbers to decline, and Barack Obama’s numbers to grow,” Trippi said.

Obama shocked the political world last week when he reported raising more than $25 million. Trippi said the significance of those figures lies in how much was raised through the more than 50,000 online donors.

The director of Fordham University’s program in elections and campaign management, Costas Panagopoulos, said a number of “parallels” exist between Obama’s early success and that of Dean in 2003.

Although Dean came in last in first-quarter fundraising in 2003, Panagopoulos said there are other similarities, including Obama’s “fresh face” appeal, his energy and his place as an anti-war candidate not tied to a vote on the Iraq war.

“There are parallels that you can’t ignore,” Panagopoulos said.

Trippi chafed at the suggestion that Obama is “the next Howard Dean.”

“I think that’s really unfair to the Obama campaign,” he said, calling such comparisons “typical to the punditry.”
Trippi noted that the Dean campaign didn’t really catch fire until September 2003, only then passing 100,000 donors.

“This guy [has] done it in three months,” Trippi said.

Panagopoulos also noted the dangers of reading “too much into the numbers.”

What’s more, Obama’s campaign has a much more experienced team in place than Dean did — a number of Obama staffers, in fact, cut their teeth with Team Dean. Obama’s campaign has hired former Dean Internet strategists Joe Rospars, Gray Brooks and Jim Brayton.

“We didn’t have a [Obama campaign manager] David Plouffe,” Trippi said. “We didn’t have any [communications director] Robert Gibbses.

“So I think they’re going to make a lot fewer mistakes.”

One of the biggest mistakes Obama’s opponents could make, Trippi said, is to dismiss Obama as “the next Howard Dean.”

“If I were Hillary Clinton and everybody else, I sure wouldn’t want to be betting that he’s Howard Dean,” Trippi said. “I wouldn’t want to be clinging to that hope.”