Strategist Axelrod Will Advise White House
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now the man who was at Barack Obama's side throughout the campaign will be joining him in the White House. His name is David Axelrod. You've heard him on this program. Some compare Axelrod's relationship with President-elect Obama to Karl Rove and President Bush or James Carville and President Clinton. NPR's David Schaper has a profile.
DAVID SCHAPER: David Axelrod is the kind of guy who wears out BlackBerries, wears them out or breaks them. Colleagues say several times during the campaign, they had to have to have new BlackBerries rush delivered to him because he was constantly working, emailing, texting, calling, multitasking. It's the same kind of intensity and work ethnic that colleagues say David Axelrod displayed back in the pre-BlackBerry days of the late '70s and early '80s when he was a newspaper reporter for The Chicago Tribune.
Mr. WILLIAM RECKTENWALD (Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale): He was thorough and careful and had a lot good sources, worked the phones really hard. And unlike some folks that you meet in the reporting business, he knew that there were things that he didn't know.
SCHAPER: Bill Recktenwald worked with Axelrod at The Tribune where Axelrod was a protege of sorts. The Tribune hired Axelrod right out of the University of Chicago. He quickly rose past veteran journalists to the coveted City Hall beat. In 1981, at the age of 26, he became the youngest chief political writer and columnist in The Tribune's history. But colleagues say that within a few years, Axelrod grew frustrated with reporting. And in 1984, Axelrod left the newspaper to work in Democratic politics. But he wouldn't work for just anyone in the state known for corruption. Axelrod managed the upstart Senate campaign of the reform-minded and bow-tie wearing intellectual Paul Simon.
Mr. DAVID WILHELM (Former Democratic Campaign Manager and DNC Chair; President, Woodland Venture Management): David Axelrod is a believer.
SCHAPER: David Wilhelm managed the Simon campaign with Axelrod, and they've worked together on many campaigns since. That upset victory propelled Axelrod into a lucrative career of political and media consulting.
Mr. WILHELM: There are plenty of people in the business that he occupies that become cynical, for whom it just becomes a game. You know, I think David Axelrod wants to win, but I think he wants to win for a reason.
SCHAPER: Axelrod's roster of past clients include late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and current Mayor Richard Daley. He's worked for Senators Hillary Clinton and Christopher Dodd, and John Edwards' presidential bid in 2004. That same year, he helped elect a little-known state senator in Illinois named Barack Obama to the U.S. Senate. Axelrod definitely plays tough. Republican consultant Ed Rollins, who has worked against Axelrod, was once quoted as saying, "He's at the top of the list of guys I never want to see lobbing grenades at me again."
Some criticize Axelrod's PR firm's use of a tactic called astroturfing, manufacturing grassroots movements as a guise to lobby for a client's policy agenda. But Wilhelm, who managed Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, contends that Axelrod remains true to his progressive political roots.
Mr. WILHELM: I think he gets frustrated by politics as usual. That may be a strange thing to say about a guy who has made his living from politics as usual. But I think he gets frustrated by certain candidates. I think he gets frustrated to the extent that political messaging is not substantive. And I think he found a soul mate in Barack Obama.
Ms. VALERIE JARRETT (Co-Chairman, Obama-Biden Transition Project): There is a mind-meld between the two of them.
SCHAPER: Valerie Jarrett, President-elect Obama's close friend and another soon-to-be White House adviser, says Axelrod and the president-elect get each other in a way few people do. Pete Giangreco, another Chicago-based political consultant who has worked on many campaigns with Axelrod, including Barack Obama's, describes the bond the two have developed this way.
Mr. PETE GIANGRECO (Democratic Political Consultant; Partner, The Strategy Group, Chicago): There was a level of trust between David and Barack and a shared vision that sprung from Barack's view of the world.
SCHAPER: Giangreco says Axelrod helped craft and smooth the message for that vision and kept the campaign true to it, something the next president will need Axelrod to continue to do in helping shape the story of the Obama presidency. Axelrod will sell his share of his consulting business before he starts work in the White House. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.