The Team That Brought You the New President

How Plouffe, Axelrod and the Rest of the Gang Built a Master Campaign

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WASHINGTON ( -- During his acceptance speech, President-elect Barack Obama singled out "the unsung hero of this campaign, who built the best political campaign, I think, in the history of the United States of America."

That would be David Plouffe.

The genius of Obama's team, led by Mr. Plouffe and senior adviser David Axelrod, and ad group GMMB, headed by Jim Margolis, was its recognition that brand integration has transcended mere marketing to become a blend of technology, targeting, staffing, outreach and fundraising.
'Unsung hero': President-elect Obama credits campaign's success to Mr. Plouffe.
'Unsung hero': President-elect Obama credits campaign's success to Mr. Plouffe. Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast
The key was not just having the right advertising, correct strategic decisions, a precedent-breaking get-out-the-vote effort or an amazing ability to raise funds. It was the mastery of coordinating those individual elements.

And as campaign manager, it is Mr. Plouffe, a former staffer for then-House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, and more recently Mr. Axelrod's partner in the Chicago campaign strategy firm of AKP&D Message & Media, who gets credit for the coordination.

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"Plouffe's great strategic strength was the marriage of the technology and sophisticated research and messaging to the grass-roots organization," said Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to the campaign and a leading Democratic media strategist. "He was a leader on message and strategy in terms of the advertising and free press as well, but the overall 'how do we win' was his vision."

Macro and micro
Mr. Margolis credits Mr. Plouffe for bringing not only his skills as a strategist in looking at states and seeing what's necessary, but also as a counterbalance to any campaign's tendency to look at issues from a higher plane. "He's another 10,000 feet up in that he's very much involved in the overall operation of the campaign but also is a strategist," said Mr. Margolis.

Mark Putnam, who was part of the Obama ad team and the main force behind the creation of the campaign's half-hour network TV ad, calls Mr. Plouffe the ultimate campaign manager. "David is an organizational genius -- the most methodical person you will ever meet. He knows every district in the country, where they are and where they could win."

He said that with Mr. Axelrod looking at issues and Mr. Plouffe looking at how to win (including fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts), the campaign had the ideal combination. Neither Mr. Axelrod nor Mr. Plouffe could be reached for comment.

Republicans argue the Obama campaign also had a lot of luck running in an election year where Americans had a dim view of the current president and floundering economy. That helped drive home Mr. Obama's change message while hurting the message being offered by the McCain campaign, they said.

Many hands
While Mr. Plouffe coordinated the Obama campaign and had a hand in the campaign's advertising decisions, especially spending, it was Mr. Margolis' team that steered the advertising team, and Mr. Axelrod who brought home the overall message.

Besides GMMB and AKP's John Del Ceccato, the media team included Mr. Putnam's Murphy-Putnam, Democratic consultant Saul Shorr, and in the last months, Dixon Davis and Squier Knapp Dunn (where Ms. Dunn works). Larry Grisolano, a partner in the direct mail Strategy Group, coordinated efforts having to do with far more than direct mail. In addition, Fuse did some ads aimed at African-Americans; James Aldrete's Message, Audience & Presentation created some Hispanic ads and SS&K made some youth-targeted creative.

Ms. Dunn said the bulk of the campaign's ads were done by GMMB with some key spots from AKP's Mr. Del Ceccato, but that the entire team "worked collegially in a way few would believe."

Mr. Margolis said that as senior adviser to the campaign, Mr. Axelrod didn't produce spots, but he had a hand in writing and rewriting ads.
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