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Joe Trippi, Pied Piper of Dean’s Internet Campaign, Storms off Stage

Will he lead his faithful followers with him? They’re rending their clothes on the Dean blog today, as the Internet master packs his tents and heads back to his Maryland farm. We profiled the Wizard of the Web back in October, when the DNC was posing the musical question, “Will Howard Dean flame out like an overheated dotcom?”

Sadly, the parallels are inescapable. Dean burned through a hefty $9.2M in advertising, but still finished lamely in Iowa and New Hampshire, prompting a re-evaluation of a campaign fueled largely by devoted but neophyte supporters. (Anybody remember boo.com?) So Dean turned to veteran political operative Ray Neel, a former lobbyist and Al Gore aide, causing even the Governor’s faithful to wonder if the campaign was selling out to the Washington insiders it has spent months ridiculing.

Tuesday’s primaries should provide the answer to whether the first true grassroots campaign since Eugene McCarthy marshalled the help of the hippies in 1968 has the fortitude to go the distance. Stay tuned.

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