Heading into the reelection campaign, the president’s political inner circle is filled with familiar faces from 2008 — evidence of the skill with which that campaign was run and Obama’s unswerving loyalty to those who helped get him into office 21
2 years ago.
Here are the men and women who make up the president’s inner circle (in alphabetical order):
• David Axelrod: A first among equals, Axelrod — or “Ax,” as he’s commonly known by the Obama team — left his role as a senior adviser to the president this year but is still very much involved in the operation. More so than anyone else in the inner circle, Axelrod is able to channel Obama — knowing what the president thinks (or would think) in nearly every situation.
• Cornell Belcher: Belcher, one of the main pollsters for the Democratic National Committee, has spent the past several years studying Obama’s electoral base of young voters and African Americans. He’ll bring that knowledge to bear for the reelection effort.
• Joel Benenson: Benenson emerged during the 2008 campaign as Obama’s pollster of choice — a calming presence who, like his client, tends to take the long view rather than get caught up in the day-to-day numbers chase. Benenson will be the lead pollster for Obama in 2012.
• Jennifer O’Malley Dillon: O’Malley Dillon spent the first two years of the Obama administration as the executive director at the DNC and now serves as one of two deputy campaign managers for the reelection bid. She was not an original member of Team Obama — she ran the Iowa caucus operation for former senator John Edwards (N.C.) in 2008 — but her knowledge of the president’s grass-roots operation is now second to none.
• Patrick Gaspard: Gaspard came to Obama from the world of New York labor politics, having served as political director of the powerful Service Employees International Union Local 1199. After reprising that role in Obama’s campaign, Gaspard became political director at the White House — a position he held until this year, when he replaced O’Malley Dillon as DNC executive director.
• Robert Gibbs: Gibbs spent more than two years as the public face of the administration, serving as White House press secretary. That title always undersold Gibbs’s power, however, as he had a long and close relationship with Obama that few others in the White House could match. Gibbs will help oversee the campaign’s communications operation — assuming he passes on a job at social-media giant Facebook, which has expressed interest in hiring him.
• Larry Grisolano: Gris — pronounced “griz” — may be the lowest-profile member of the inner circle but is among its most valuable assets. In 2008, he coordinated the paid-media arm of the campaign — a titanic strategic task. Now a partner at AKPD, a media consulting firm founded by Axelrod, he is expected to play a similar role for the reelection effort.