David Axelrod’s Last Campaign

As Barack Obama’s chief campaign strategist in 2008, David Axelrod helped craft a winning message of hope and change. Now he’s back for what he says will be his final political campaign. His game plan for 2012 could determine whether Obama gets to finish what he started—or sees it all slip away

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Axelrod at his River North office
Axelrod at his River North office in July


Q&A »
Axelrod on Chicago as the campaign HQ, what he misses about the West Wing, and more

From the archives: our December 1987 profile

Chicago’s winners and losers in Election 2008

Leaving Washington, says Axelrod, was like exiting a “whirling carousel.” And for symbolic purposes, he picked an appropriate time to return to Chicago: February 2, 2011, the day the city experienced one of its worst blizzards ever. “I want to spend time with people who don’t talk about Politico over dinner,” he said a few days later, over a bowl of matzo ball soup at Manny’s, the University Village deli where politicians like to congregate and where Axelrod is honored with his own table. “The conversation out here is so different. I was struck by [that on] the day when I got home. Cable TV was all about [the uprisings in] Egypt, and local TV was all about snow. It underscored [that] the reality of everyday life is different than the discussion in Washington.”

Over the next few months, Axelrod continued to decompress. He settled into his old office—he’s no longer a partner at AKPD, though he still rents space there—and lined up speaking engagements. He spent some time with his wife, Susan, at their Michigan cottage, vacationed for a week in Puerto Rico, took in several Bulls games, and rejoined his old pickup basketball crew at the West Loop Athletic Club. He read a little: Bill Simmons’s book on basketball, Thurston Clarke’s book on Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration, and, perhaps as a primer for the campaign ahead, Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”

“It was very interesting for me to observe the strategist’s mind as he recalibrated from being in the room on a day-to-day basis, inundated with so many of the decisions in government that matter a great deal but are not in the forefront of the [political] narrative,” says Larry Grisolano, Axelrod’s longtime partner and a top Obama campaign consultant.

While he reconnected with the real America, Axelrod was loath to make any formal declarations about the state of the electorate. “I think I have a sense of it, but I don’t think I have my arms around it,” he said in February. “I think it is very hard to get your arms around it in the White House. It is like working in a submarine, and you see the world through a periscope. You can see things, but it is not nearly as effective as walking out among the land people.” He maintained this agnosticism throughout the spring. By June, two months after the 2012 campaign had officially gotten under way, he said he was “far more relaxed,” having narrowed his focus to just the reelection. “I don’t have responsibilities for all these other events,” he said. “For me, the great advantage is I can step back. And this is what I always hoped, that there would be more clarity when I could step back and just focus on this.”

“Axelrod getting out of the White House will allow him to have the head space to re-sync with President Obama as he did in 2008, and by doing that, they’ll be able to get back to being an incredibly effective tag team,” says the Democratic strategist who has known Axelrod for years. “President Obama needs David to be grounded in his soul, in his Chicago soul. It is critical.”

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Photograph: Esther Kang



3 years ago
Posted by FunnyIfNotSad

Dear Mr. Axelrod: Many of us voted for Obama based on the promise of 'hope' and 'change'. We believed that he was real and genuine. Somehow, I thought we were getting a 'third way' sort of President who would actually work with Republicans and reign in the House and Senate crazy Democrat liberals. Instead, we got a plain old clueless condescending liberal who's only answer to all issues is government regulation and spending, with a certain amount of class envy thrown in for the grass roots. You misrepresented what we were buying. Don't be so shocked that it has been widely rejected.

2 years ago
Posted by sarah7272

Mr. Axelrod, I have watched you for a long time and I admire your cool head. For Obama to win in 2012, he has to do something way out of this world and you have to help him do that as you have before.
I believe that the American people have the opportunity to do something about there complaints about the do nothing congress this November, but as usual they will not. That is ashame.
Obama, to win, has to do something about jobs and the economy, not just give speeches about it. He needs to pull something out of the box that is reasonable but also that is more agressive than anything this country has ever seen and that could never be envisioned by the Republicans and he needs to drive that agenda with such force, either with the help of congress or by eddict, that has never been imagined.
The American people want better times and change and will listen to something they can understand and that has a good possibility of suceeding.
Do you believe that either of the past President Bush group would have put up with Congress being the way they are today. Not in your or my lifetime. I am counting on you and so are the American people. Everyone needs to remember that not only the President but Congress in in Washington to do the work and will of the people, not the will of the party or what they are paid to do by special interest groups, the later is call bribery.

2 years ago
Posted by conservative

mr axelrod why are liberals and obama destroying this great country,why are the liberals and obama pathological liars mitt romney needs to win this election before obama and the liberals destroy thisa country worse then they already did

2 years ago
Posted by conservative

sarah7272 you are wrong ,what the liberals are doing to this great country is apalling,mitt romney needs to win so the liberals dont destroy this great country any more then it is

2 years ago
Posted by Yes an

Yes we can !
Yes we can !
By the grace of God,
Yes we can !

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