Obama campaign gurus David Axelrod and Jim Messina to face off in British vote

The British general election next year will pit one Obama campaign mastermind against another.

Jim Messina, who managed President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, had already signed up last August to consult for Prime Minister David Cameron and the ruling Conservative Party. Now, David Axelrod, architect of Obama’s rise from first-term senator to the White House, will be working for the opposition Labor Party.

Labor announced late Thursday night that Axelrod would be a senior strategic adviser as Labor leader Ed Miliband seeks to unseat Cameron in the May 2015 vote.

“He will be a huge asset to our campaign as we work to show the British people how we can change our country for the better," Miliband said in announcing the appointment.

Axelrod said in a statement that Miliband “understands that a growing economy demands that you have to have broad prosperity. We can’t just have prosperity hoarded by a few where people at the top are getting wealthier and wealthier but people in the middle are getting squeezed. This is a problem not just for Britain but everywhere in advanced economies, including here in the U.S.”

It is not uncommon for American consultants to enter the fray of British politics. As prime minister, Tony Blair was heavily influenced by veterans of the Clinton administration, including pollster Stan Greenberg, who continues to work for Labor.

But it is unusual for a sitting American president to have two of his most prominent former campaign gurus working on opposite sides of an election that will determine who leads the government of Washington’s closest ally. Both Axelrod and Messina have left the White House and work as private consultants.

Axelrod is signing up at a time when Labor has an edge over the Conservatives — but only a slight one. Most polls show Labor with an advantage of a few percentage points, but neither party has anywhere close to a majority.

With two other parties taking a significant share of the vote — the centrist Liberal Democrats and the right-wing U.K. Independence Party — it is likely that Britain is headed for another coalition government. The current government, which has been in power since 2010, is an alliance of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Already, both Miliband and Cameron are sounding out themes that will be familiar to anyone who followed Obama’s 2012 campaign. Miliband speaks often of a “cost-of-living crisis” for Britons and says the current government has widened the gap between rich and poor. Cameron has countered with evidence of an improving economy and has urged his countrymen not to hand control back to a Labor Party that oversaw Britain’s descent into recession before being ousted after 13 years in power.

Messina is not the only former Obama aide to have crossed both the pond and the political spectrum to work for the Tories. Former Obama communications director Anita Dunn consulted for Cameron and the Conservatives during the 2010 election.

Neither Axelrod nor Messina will move to Britain, but instead will be visiting and offering advice from afar. Axelrod is due to spend two days in London meeting with senior Labor figures next month.

Griff Witte is The Post’s London bureau chief. He previously served as the paper’s deputy foreign editor and as the bureau chief in Kabul, Islamabad and Jerusalem.
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