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.
• Valerie Jarrett: The least political member of the Obama political inner circle, Jarrett makes the cut because of her incomparable personal relationship with the president. Ask anyone who Obama listens to — really listens to — among his advisers and Jarrett’s name always comes up. She’s likely to keep her post as a senior adviser.
• Alyssa Mastromonaco: Mastromonaco rose to prominence in the 2008 campaign as Obama’s director of scheduling and advance — a title that underplayed the power and influence she had on the team. This year she was named deputy White House chief of staff, a post from which she will — yet again — ensure that the president’s time is well spent.
• Jim Messina: Messina spent years toiling in the political salt mines — he did stints for Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (N.Y.) as well as Sens. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Max Baucus (Mont.) — before getting his chance to shine as chief of staff for the 2008 campaign. After two years as deputy chief of staff in the White House, Messina is now tasked with managing the 2012 campaign.
• Dan Pfeiffer: Pfeiffer serves as White House communications director, but one look at his resume shows a deep political bent. He spent four years in South Dakota working on the reelection campaigns of Sens. Tim Johnson (a win in 2002) and Tom Daschle (a loss in 2004). After helping Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) explore a run for president in 2008, Pfeiffer signed on with Obama and rapidly ascended the ranks of the campaign — eventually serving as communications director.
• David Plouffe: The brightest staff star of the 2008 election, Plouffe stepped out of the limelight for nearly two years to write a book about his experience managing Obama’s campaign. He’s now back and installed in the White House as a senior adviser. His management abilities and political know-how — honed during a previous life as a strategist for Rep. Dick Gephardt (Mo.) — make him a foundational member of the inner circle.
• Julianna Smoot: If Obama is going to be the first presidential candidate to raise $1 billion, it’s Smoot who will get him there. Smoot oversaw Obama’s massive fundraising operation in 2008, and her 11-month stint as White House social secretary most likely deepened her Rolodex. She’s now one of two deputy campaign managers for the reelection race.
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