Trusted Adviser Recounts Obama's Evolution David Axelrod, chief media strategist for the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, is one of Obama's closest advisers. He knew the Illinois senator well before he entered into politics. Axelrod tells Michele Norris that Obama is a happy warrior on the campaign trail.
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Trusted Adviser Recounts Obama's Evolution

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Trusted Adviser Recounts Obama's Evolution

Trusted Adviser Recounts Obama's Evolution

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michelle Norris.

Throughout this political season, we've been talking with people who work behind the scenes in the presidential campaigns. Today, we caught up with David Axelrod. He's the chief strategist for Democratic Senator Barack Obama. Axelrod's relationship with Obama goes back years, before Obama first entered politics as an Illinois state senator from Chicago. I asked Axelrod how Obama has evolved as a candidate.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Chief Strategist for Senator Barack Obama): He has worked through his presentation in this campaign under the bright glare and scrutiny of the national press corps. And, you know, I think that's jarring at first, but I think that he worked his way through all of that. And the guy I see now is - he's a happy warrior out there. And it's extraordinary - his ability to connect with people. And he also has a quality that is somewhat sometimes lacking in politicians. He listens and he actually hears, and he internalizes what people say to him and their stories impact on him. And it's been fun to watch.

NORRIS: David, you used an interesting term there. You said he's a happy warrior. A warrior. There are those who wonder, you know, in this whole debate about his experience, if he's tough enough for this particularly in when you go to a general election.

Mr. AXELROD: Yeah. Well, you know, I think if you follow the arc of Barack's life, I think his toughness is manifest and, you know, his father left when he was two. He had a rather desultory upbringing. His mother - he and his mother lived in Indonesia for a while. He came back and lived with his grandparents. You know, he's had a lot of challenges in his life, and his life could have gone in any direction. And he had this sort of grounding and internal fortitude and sense of who he was and what his place was in this larger world and - but…

NORRIS: But so much of what you're talking about - I just want to clarify this because so much of what you're talking about is his character and sort of an internal, moral compass.

Mr. AXELROD: Right.

NORRIS: I mean, success in politics, sometimes, in fact, often means having to close your eyes or even hold your nose and do something that you might not like to do but you have to do if you keep your eye on the goal.

Mr. AXELROD: Well, I mean, that's an interesting question, and maybe we'll test the proposition, Michele. I believe that he has the ability to make a very tough case on behalf of the things that he cares about. And he'll fight very hard for them. You were asking a different question, which is, you know, does he have the ability to be kind of underhanded? Will he pull the trigger on ludicrous(ph), negative shot and so on as, you know, you often see in politics. You know, I think the answer to that is probably no. I don't think that he - I don't think that's toughness. I think it's something he has committed not to do.

And the question really is what does the country want right now? Do they want someone, you know, do they want to continue the kind of politics that we've had that have led us to the morass we're in or do they want someone who can really lift us, bring us together, appeal to, as Lincoln said, the better angels of our nature and move this country forward? And, you know, we'll find out the answer to that question.

NORRIS: You know, when I asked the question, I wasn't necessarily referring to doing something underhanded, but there is, you know, a choice that you make if you see someone who has a perceived weakness. Do you point that out? Not just exploit it or point it out, do you point out that someone's slip is showing or do you politely look the other way?

Mr. AXELROD: Well, it depends on what. If there are, if there are fundamental weaknesses in someone's position, I think you do point it out. And let me point something else out. If some attacks you, you push back hard, and he's done that repeatedly.

NORRIS: The Des Moines Register made its endorsements over the weekend. They chose to endorse Hillary Clinton. Was it a blow to the campaign?

Mr. AXELROD: Well, look, no. It wasn't a blow to the campaign. We would have loved to have had it. Any of the campaigns would have liked to have had it. What was interesting about it, Michele, and I don't know if you read the whole commentary section, but they have their analysis of each candidate in addition to the endorsement, and their analysis of Obama was that he held out enormous promise, that he had a unique vision, and his, you know, world view was extraordinary, and all of that.

You know, their basic argument was, you know, we need someone with more Washington seasoning. The Boston Globe endorsed Barack Obama over the weekend and made just the opposite argument, which is the problem with spending your life in Washington is that you see only the limitations and not the possibilities. So, you know, I think that's the yin and yang of this argument. People will, I think, weigh those two things. And if, at the end of the day, what they want is someone who's a master of the Washington scene, you know, he's not going to be the next president of the United States. If they want someone who will challenge it and really offer us a new approach and will bring us together to solve problems, I think we've got an excellent chance.

NORRIS: Thank you, David. Good to talk to you.

Mr. AXELROD: Good to talk to you.

NORRIS: That was David Axelrod, chief strategist for Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

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