Which Candidate's Speechwriter Will Be the Next Michael Gerson?

(Gerald Herbert - AP)
By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, March 18, 2007

Speechwriters are the most exotic of political staffers. Half artist, half operative, they toil almost entirely anonymously in a presidential campaign. But their mission -- crafting the words the candidate speaks -- is critical to a campaign's success.

Michael Gerson, who was President Bush's lead speechwriter from 1999 until mid-2006, redefined the role, becoming not just the president's wordsmith but also one of his most trusted advisers. He has been alternately described as the architect of Bush's "compassionate conservative" governing philosophy and as the most influential speechwriter since Ted Sorenson, who plied his trade on behalf of President John F. Kennedy.

While every 2008 presidential campaign insists that its candidate is intimately involved in crafting his or her speeches, the reality is that each will come to depend on a single individual who can seamlessly express the candidate's vision for the country in words.

Here's a look at a few of the individuals with that responsibility:

· Brett O'Donnell. Before signing on with Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) presidential bid, O'Donnell was the director of debate at Liberty University for 14 years. In 2004, O'Donnell was involved in prepping Bush for his debates against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). He served in the same role for former Virginia attorney general Jerry Kilgore (R) in the 2005 gubernatorial race, which Kilgore lost.

· Jon Favreau. No, the man charged with writing speeches for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is not the actor who played the lovelorn Mike Peters in the movie "Swingers." This Jon Favreau worked a stint as a telemarketer in high school, graduated from the College of the Holy Cross and served as a speechwriter for Kerry in 2004. He signed on to Obama's team after that election and was the architect of Obama's teasing "announcement" during an appearance in December on "Monday Night Football."

· Matt Rees. Rees has written speeches for nearly every Bush administration official of note, including the president. Now he is charged with finding the right words for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R). The campaign is careful to note that its candidate -- an English major at Brigham Young University -- plays an active role in his own speechwriting.


Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) rarely rises above 1 or 2 percent in national polls relating to the 2008 Democratic field. But his speech last week to the International Association of Fire Fighters received rave reviews, and early word is that his first-quarter fundraising is surprisingly strong. That mini-momentum is seen in staff hires as well; Dodd has added three operatives who have deep campaign experience to his team in recent days. Taylor West will serve as the campaign's Iowa press secretary, fresh off a stint in the same role for Iowa Gov. Chet Culver. Hari Sevugan, who served as spokesman for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in 2006, has also joined Dodd's press shop. Scott Arceneaux will be the campaign's national political director. Arceneaux managed Judy Feder's unsuccessful campaign in Virginia's 10th District last year and has previously worked in Louisiana and Maryland.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company