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Barack Obama's On-Point Message Man

Consultant David Axelrod with his latest candidate:
Consultant David Axelrod with his latest candidate: "I believe there is nobility in politics. I believe there is great good that can be done." (By Nancy Stone -- Chicago Tribune)

"What he brings to the table," says Brazile, who watched Axelrod in action on Eleanor Holmes Norton's 1990 campaign for the District's delegate to Congress, "is the ability to help a candidate not only find their voice but also their roots. Their soul. David understands how to push through all the paper to get to the person."

Axelrod, 51, says he found a story he believed and thought voters would, too, when he and Obama, 45, became friends years ago, when the recent Harvard Law School graduate was in Chicago for a voter registration drive. He worked on Obama's 2004 Senate race.

Meanwhile, over the years Axelrod also made issue ads during Hillary Clinton's 2000 New York Senate race; served Tom Vilsack's 1998 and 2002 races for governor of Iowa; worked on Sen. Christopher Dodd's (D-Conn.) 2004 reelection; and worked on John Edwards's 2004 presidential race.

"I like each one of them," Axelrod says. The Edwards experience was a little awkward when Axelrod lost responsibility for making ads but continued as a campaign spokesman. Axelrod says there were tensions not with Edwards but with others inside the campaign whom he declined to identify. A spokesman for Edwards said he had nothing further to add to Axelrod's account.

After the heady blur of Obama's three-day "announcement tour" in Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire, with those made-for-TV images of the candidate in all his fired-up handsomeness addressing adoring crowds -- Can any campaign ever match the horizonless possibilities of Announcement Day? -- a more difficult phase has begun.

The media are already getting cranky, clamoring for programmatic specifics, seizing on the gaffe about "wasted" lives of soldiers killed in Iraq.

Axelrod skipped the New Hampshire leg of the tour and returned to his Chicago office to edit videos from the tour for uploading to the candidate's Web site.

The former Chicago Tribune newsman says he still appreciates the role of the media. But he is also helping to guide a campaign that is finding ways to sidestep the media in ways that Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton could only fantasize about. Like his rivals, Obama is using the Internet ever more elaborately, inviting supporters to blog, interact and create their own "my.barackobama.com."

"There's an awareness that we have this channel, and we can talk in a direct and unfiltered way to our supporters," Axelrod says. "We're just in many ways introducing Barack to the American people." And then, purposely or unconsciously, he reveals that the storytelling is a battle: "We will be deploying all the possible avenues for doing that."

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Media consultants, like their candidates, have their personal narratives. Axelrod's goes something like this:

He grew up middle class in New York City, where he remembers being 5 years old and hoisted onto a mailbox to watch John F. Kennedy at a campaign rally for president. At 9 he handed out leaflets for Bobby Kennedy's New York Senate run. He remembers the thump of the newspaper landing outside his apartment door.


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