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POLITICS IS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY

Should Sen. John F. Kerry win the presidential election, the first person he might thank is Joe Trippi.

Trippi is the Jamestown native who managed Howard Dean's failed campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Dean and Trippi changed the rules for raising money by reaching out to small donors over the Internet.

Kerry not only copied the Trippi model, he surpassed it, raising nearly $185 million thus far. Most of it came in small donations from more than one million donors on the Net.

Now, as Kerry starts the biggest week of his political career at the Democratic convention, Trippi offers advice on how the candidate can not only win over the media, but also the voters. It can be summed up in four words: Show me the money.

"If I were Kerry, I would opt out of federal funding ($75 million) at the convention in my nomination speech," Trippi said in a telephone interview. "Kerry should say: 'Look, I'm going to do something different. Today I'm putting my campaign's future in the hands of the American people.

" 'I'm turning down $75 million in taxpayers' money. The people will fund my campaign, or it will not be funded. We will change more than presidents. We will change a system that doesn't work for the American people. Your dollars will do it.' "

Trippi turned down almost $19 million in public funds for Dean and raised $41 million, using the Net. He says Kerry could raise $75 million "in a few days."

Trippi, whose new book is aptly called "The Revolution Will Not be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything," believes Kerry is changing his media image.

"Kerry had fallen into the same trap that every other politician had fallen into for the past 40 years," said Trippi, who started working on Democratic presidential campaigns in 1980. "Kerry would ride to events on his motorcycle. Every time he did that, he was part of a whole class of politicians who say: 'Look at me. Aren't I amazing?'

"Howard Dean went out there every day and said to the American people, 'You are amazing.' That's what Kerry has to do: turn the dialogue back to the American people, and show them that this campaign is not about him but about them."

Media coverage of the campaign "has horribly let the country down, and it has been a fast decline this year," said Trippi, who will work as an analyst for MSNBC at the convention. "The problem is you can't have a real debate on television. It's come down to six-second sound bites."

The Dean campaign was a textbook example of how the media can slice and dice a candidate.

"It was unfair, but I've been doing this for 30 years, and that's the way it is: They build you up and they tear you down," Trippi said. "You make what looks like a minor error, and if it's a slow news day, you're screwed."

Did someone say "Scream Speech"?

Trippi, in his late 40s and the father of three, has wistful thoughts about Jamestown. His parents moved to California when he was a child but spent every summer in Jamestown until he was 18.

"When I think of small-town America, I think of Jamestown. I love it," said Trippi, who now lives in Maryland. "The first girl I ever kissed, Robin, lived behind my Aunt Tina's house on Third Street. I wonder whatever happened to Robin?"

What happened to Trippi is that the Jamestown kid became a player in presidential politics. He believes Kerry is up for the challenge of this week's convention and calls it a "make or break" time for the candidate.

"This guy is best when he's down," Trippi said of Kerry. "He was dead in January, his face was in the dust, but he came back and won. I'll tell you something: Never underestimate John Kerry."

Or Joe Trippi.

e-mail: aviolanti@buffnews.com

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