The Sounding Board

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If and when he wants to run for president, Senator Obama must name a campaign committee and register it with the Federal Election Commission. Obama denies a rumor that he has named even an informal exploratory committee. In any event, he apparently relies on a small number of close advisers in weighing political decisions.

In 1991, Valerie Jarrett recruited Michelle Robinson, who was then Obama’s fiancée, to be an assistant to Mayor Daley. By all accounts, Michelle Obama is the senator’s main confidante. Jarrett, former chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority and now executive vice president of the Habitat Company, is one of the couple’s closest friends. She was the finance chair of Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign and became the first treasurer of his political action committee, Hopefund.

State senate president Emil Jones Jr. has known Obama since the senator was a South Side community organizer in the 1980s.

Jones was one of the first power brokers Obama approached before launching the 2004 campaign and remains an influential adviser.

The first individual Obama publicly thanked when giving his victory speech on election night in November 2004 was the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in the Washington Heights neighborhood. Wright has been a personal adviser ever since he officiated at Obama’s wedding.

Obama’s political consultant is David Axelrod, who met Obama through a friend when Obama was working on a voter registration drive in 1992. He signed on as consultant in 2003 and directed the Senate campaign. Asked to name Obama’s closest advisers, Axelrod says, “I think he relies heavily now on people who are around him in the Senate.”

Obama has said he spent two-thirds of his time during his first few months in office just putting together his staff. As chief of staff he hired not an Illinois associate, but Peter Rouse, who had filled the same job for Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Daschle was the Senate Democratic leader before he was defeated for re-election in 2004.
–J. M.