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Going National with Local Talent

On the Campaign Trail with Kathy Lash and Joe Trippi

When Kathy Lash came home to Alexandria last Thursday, she did the same things she has done since childhood — bought a missing toiletry item at Bradlee Shopping Center, had lunch with a girlfriend in Old Town, and then met her new boss for dinner with 675 of his friends and supporters.

Kathy is Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean’s deputy press secretary, and her husband, Joe Trippi, is Dean’s campaign manager.

"We all knew that Kathy would work for a national campaign one day,” said Susan Kellom, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. “I first met her during Congressman Jim Moran’s 1990 congressional campaign. We all certainly supported Jim but thought he was going to have a real uphill battle unseating Stan Paris. Then we saw the caliber of people that he had working for him and began to believe that he had a chance. Kathy ran his campaign press operation. She doesn’t just turn lemons into lemonade, but [she turns them] into mimosas.”

Lash grew up in Alexandria, where her family has lived for generations. She attended St. Mary’s Academy for a short time and ultimately graduated from Wakefield High School in Arlington, where her father had moved. In the mid-1980s, Lash began working in event planning.

“I met her in 1986 when we were working together for a firm in Washington,” said Mame Reiley, Lash’s mentor, who has just been elected chair of the Women’s Caucus of the Democratic National Committee. “I left that firm to run Jim’s [Moran] campaign, and Kathy was leaving to get a master’s in communication at American University. I suggested that she intern with the campaign, and three months later she was running Jim’s entire press operation.

"She is bright and energetic and far too nice to do as well as she does in this business. She could run any national campaign’s press group. This is the first campaign that we haven’t worked together. She’s doing a great job.”

AFTER MORAN was elected, Lash was his press secretary, a position she held until 1996. She married Trippi in November 1996, and continued to work with Reiley on special projects. She worked on Virginia’s sales tax referendum and on Gov. Mark Warner’s inaugural festivities. She began working with Dean in January of this year.

“Joe worked on Gov. Dean’s other campaigns so he knew much more about him than I did,” Lash said. “I met him in January when he came to town to speak at an event. They asked me to pick him up at the airport and drive him around to his appointments. We got into my Jeep and off we went. There were no cameras or press at the airport or at many of our stops. I got an opportunity to talk to him and see that he is a genuinely nice person.”

Nice enough to take getting lost in stride. “I’ve lived in the Washington area all of my life,” Lash said. “I thought I knew where I was going and didn’t. On the way to a dinner, I got lost and we were lost for about 15 minutes. He just smiled and told me not to worry about it.”

TRIPPI MOVED to Vermont in March, but Lash did not make the move until May. “I had to get all of the animals settled and tie up other loose ends,” she said.

She was there in time to coordinate Dean’s announcement that he would run for office. “It was amazing,” she said. “The weather was perfect, and everything went well.”

Now she works with organizations in various states to plan special events and travels with Dean when she is needed.

“I am up at around 5 a.m. to walk my dog. I grab coffee and check e-mail and stay in the office until around 5 p.m. Then I try to go to the gym for a workout, usually order something for dinner, and work until 10 or 11 p.m. Then I go home to bed and get up the next day and do it all again.

“In addition to my duties as deputy press secretary, I also have those duties that are a wife’s. I try to make sure that Joe eats at least one meal a day and gets at least some sleep. It is so exciting to be a part of this campaign because everyone is enthusiastic and involved because they believe in the governor and his message,” Lash said.

THAT MESSAGE HAS resonated with thousands of people around the country, and the campaign has raised $14.8 million since January, mostly in $75 increments. Lash knows that Dean has to reach those who are not sending e-mail or keeping up with the campaign on the Web site.

“We all know that we need to reach out to minority voters,” she said. “And Gov. Dean is doing that. He is inclusive, and a number of senior staff positions are held by women and minorities. We have produced information in Spanish and are going to do even more to get our message out to those who don’t use the Internet,” she said.

Lash and Trippi are not the only members of the family who are involved in Dean’s campaign. Their West Highland terrier, Kasey, has become the campaign mascot. “She does this trick that everybody just loves,” Lash said. “If you ask her if she would rather have four more years of George W. Bush or be dead, she rolls over and plays dead. It’s hysterical,” Lash said.