Transcript: The Post's Lois Romano Interviews David Plouffe
January 10, 2009
Lois Romano: Hi David, we're sitting her with David Plouffe. Today considered the world's greatest CEO. How does that feel, seriously, you're probably considered the best CEO of 2008.
David Plouffe: Well politics is obviously different than business. I don't think I could go run a car company. But, uh, this campaign was a joy to be a part of, first of all, most of what we thought would happen did. Most of the top line strategy message we laid out ended up really working for us. And so, it was great to be part of something, that most of what you designed ended up coming to fruition. But really the great part was the millions of Americans that made up our grassroots campaign. You know, I still think it's not properly appreciated; the role they played in allowing us to win states like Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia. Half of the people that donated to our campaign or volunteered had never done so before.
LR: Is that right?
DP: Which is a remarkable number. So Barak Obama really inspired a new generation to be active in their politics and their democracy. And I hope that that is one of the lasting things out of this campaign.
LR: Well what are you going to do with those people? Quantify that for us, I mean we've seen a lot of different numbers, I mean 13 million different email you have, can you walk us through that? And tell us a little bit about what you're going to do to harness that power.
DP: Well, it's never been done before, at least at this scale. So I think we all understand it's going to be some trial and error. We've spent a lot of time talking to our grassroots supporters since the election. We had 48 hundred house parties in the middle of December, and over half million of them returned a survey, and we got a lot of great information out of that. And it's clear a lot of them want to continue supporting the president and advocating for issues. So, whether it be energy, health care, or the economy; I think we're going to help facilitate people having discussions back in their home town communities about that - building support, talking to people about these issues. Now, not everybody is going to want to focus on the same issue, so it's great, so if somebody really cares about energy, then they've got the ability then to spend some time on that - so I don't think we know yet, how it's going to unfold, but I think it's going to be good to have hundreds of thousands of Americans out there talking about issues. That's good for democracy, at its core.
LR: Is this part of what your roll is going to be? Do you see yourself trying to figure out what to do with this huge, historic base of support?DP: Well, I'm going to spend quite a bit of time on that on the outside. We're going to have staff working on it full time. And, unlike the political campaign, obviously, this is not a political campaign first of all, second of all, we are going to have some staff it won't be as rigorous as it was on the campaign. So we really are going to have to rely on our volunteer team leaders around the country who organize their own communities, their own towns and they are really hungry to go. I think that people understand that the challenges are big. And Barack, the day he announced in Februrary of 07 until now, says, you're not going to change Washington, only from Washington, it's going to come from the grassroots.
Talking to Kids… What's the matter bud…
LR: How do ensure that this phenomenal grassroots effort doesn't turn against you? We saw what happened with MoveOn.com and they don't get impatient and move ahead of the agenda.
DP: Well I think first of all, people out there need to understand that we are listening to them. A lot of what we're going to be doing comes from feedback they gave us. We need to acknowledge the great work their doing and how meaningful it is. And not everyone is going to agree with what the president elect is doing obviously. But I think if we are transparent about it, if we are clear why we are going certain things, and we really, from the president on down, send a message that we value their time and their effort. The remarkable thing is the people in the campaign who spent 10, 20, 30 hours a week on the campaign who had full time jobs and kids, and it was a remarkable thing to see- and something that none of us that were involved, will never forget. So part of it is that we respect people, make sure they understand we're listening to them, and value their time and effort.
LR: How can you mobilize supporters, say, around the stimulus package, cause, the numbers indicate that they aren't really crazy about it. Congress has already come out and said that, they might vote against it. How can you mobilize around that to explain it?
DP: Well, we'll obviously, as the next year or two progress, we'll have to determine which legislatives initiatives are going to require the full weight of the grassroots or not, we haven't made a decision, obviously, on the stimulus. I think the great thing about our supporters and just people in general, whether they were for Obama, or McCain, the electorate was engaged, they are out there paying a lot of attention. They are emailing and calling their friends, on websites all day long. So I think you've got an act of an engaged electorate out there, and so I think that people are going to make their voices known.
LR: What… You're a hill veteran, what do you think when you hear Harry Reid say, I don't work for Obama, I'm working with him? What kind of message does that sending the Democrats?
DP: Well, listen, I mean the truth is obviously, he's the Senate leader, so I think that, my great hope here is the stakes are so high…
Kid Noises… that's very nice, now make…
DP: So I think, my great hope is that, obviously, the stakes are huge, our economy is in turmoil, we've got international challenges, my hope is, and the country understands that, what's clear is that the American people understand that we've got big challenges, it's going to take a long time to address them to get us on the right track. My hope and expectation is that congress is going to be a partner in that. Doesn't mean that everyone in Congress, even the Democratic party, agree with everything that Barack Obama sets out to do. But I think they all understand that on the economy, on energy and health care, if we haven't begun to put this country on the right track, in the next year or two, we have failed. And so I have great hope that everyone involved in helping to set the country on the right track understands that, you know, it's time to deliver.
LR: You have a window of good graces, how long do you think that window is?
DP: Oh I don't know… I know that, here's what I know, Barack Obama would say during the campaign, you know when the challenges kept mounting, when we entered the campaign back in 07, Iraq was a huge issue, the economy was beginning to slow a little bit, but you know, as the campaign progressed, things got worse and worse. He's not worried about reelection at all. What he's worried about is solving these problems. When you look at energy and healthcare; they've been talked about for decades in Washington, he said that repeatedly during the campaign. Even with the economic crisis we face, I think he's going to see not making progress on those two issues as a huge problem. So I think you're going to see him, on these issues that have bedeviled our country for so long, that are hurting us economically, that are really challenging our families and our businesses, we've gotta get stuff done. It doesn't matter how high he is in the poll or how low he is. We've gotta make progress on these issues.
LR: You were known to run a very disciplined campaign, how does it feel watching the transition from the outside and not being able to reach in and say, don't do this, do that? I mean, has that kinda been hard for you?
DP: Well I think that the transition has been a 10 strike. A wonderful success, and I think that there's been some commentary about the quote on quote "leaks." But a transition is different than a campaign. You've got people to vet, you've got people to check with, and I think congress and other areas, so it's not the same. And I think it's been a great transition, and it needed to be. Not for Barack Obama, for the country. The American people need this country, this administration, firing on all cylinders as quickly as possible, and I think because of the success of this transition. I also think this speaks to the qualities of Barack Obama that the people found attractive, putting his chief rival, Hillary Clinton, in the cabinet, having people like Robert Gates and Ray La Hood involved. I think he's just trying to get the best people that he can find, sorta putting his own ego aside, and wants to put the best team on the field. I think partially, that's the way he is. He's someone that wants to surround himself with the best. But, the stakes are so large, we need the best we can possibly have tackling these problems because we haven't faced anything like this perhaps since the 1930s.
LR: What do you think the Obama operation has learned from this transition period that will help them govern, what have they learned about Washington?
DP: Well again I think it's always a transition, because you go from a campaign, and the transition and the government is not a campaign. I really do believe that next Tuesday, January 20th, the campaign needs to be put in a rear-view mirror. And, you know, it's over, it's in history books now, it's on the shelf. So what I think they've learned is they're operating in Washington now. We were in Chicago, they're in Washington, you've got a congress, members of both parties to consult with, and I think they've done a very good job of that. But I think they're learning to operate in this environment, which is much different than operating in a campaign environment.
LR: What advice have you given them?
DP: Uh… as little as I can. No, my focus has been, we've got to remember to keep the American people involved: the grassroots, even people who weren't part of our campaign. My hope is if, there is an effort around energy or health care, that there will be people that get involved who weren't a part of our campaign, and may not vote for him in four years; but who say, I believe in what he's doing on energy, I'm going to go out there and build support on it. So the important thing is, change is not going to come from this town alone; given the challenges we face, the legislative priorities and necessities are huge, I don't want to underestimate the importance of it. But you also need the country involved; they need to feel bought in, they need to feel that this is an open process, and for those that want to go out there and try and talk to their neighbors, and their colleagues and their friends about these issues, you know, we want to help facilitate that.
LR: Well just to be clear, do you feel like that's what you're going to work on?
DP: Well I'm going to help him and them any way they ask. But I'm going to spend a lot of time on the grassroots organization, you know, it's something we're quite proud of. But it is going to be a challenge, because it is much different than a political campaign. That's not what we are undertaking here, we want to just basically try and, for those people that want to get involved, on issues out in their community, we want to try to figure out the best way to try and help facilitate that. Now, the great thing about people these days is they don't really wait for your lead, they'll go out there and do it on their own. So we just want to provide the tools for people, and the focus, so that this debate isn't only in Washington. I think that it would be great if that in Roanoke, Virginia, and in Austin, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, if, when, there's debates here in Washington, there's an active debate on the ground. You know, people on the phones, at doors, and at community meetings talking about this. I don't think we've seen that in a very, very long time.
LR: Do you see this unprecedented army….
DP: Uh, oh..
LR: Were you disappointed at all that Eric Holder didn't put on his questioner that he had had some dealings with Governor Blagojevich? Sorry, we're going to do that again… Were you disappointed at all when you learned that Eric Holder had not written on his questioner that he had had some business dealings with Governor Blagojevich?
DP: No, not at all. I worked very closely with Eric during the vice presidential process, and really came to believe, already had a high opinion of him. But working that closely with him I think he's going to be a terrific attorney general, and I think is going to be a real ally in all the important issues. That office is going to help the president succeed.
LR: Is he going to get confirmed?
DP: Well, I'm not on the hill, but I think there's going to be a lot of support for him. He's got a great track record, obviously, really, a brilliant legal mind, someone of great accomplishment, and again, I got to work very closely with him, and was just deeply impressed by his insights and by his discretion, and his intellect.
LR: The Republicans have telegraphed today, that they're going to go after him, so as a hill strategist, somebody who is familiar with the hill, how do you deal with that? What your strategy for dealing with their strategy?
DP: Again, I'm not involved in the administration strategy.
LR: I know, but you're smart and you've watched it.
DP: As someone in the peanut gallery. Listen, I'm sure that some of the nominees will have some opposition, and others will sail through pretty easily. But all you can focus on is you've got a career, a track record, an approach, and to be honest, about both that and how you do the office you're seeking and have been nominated for so, I have a lot of confidence that it'll be well organized, and for all of these nominees, they've all got a very good story to tell.
LR: Are you going to be involved in the murder boards at all?
DP: I will not be.
LR: You're not? OK. What do you think about the fact that the president's first act might have to be to override the veto on the stimulus package?
DP: Well, again, I'm not involved in these discussions in any, day to day, so. I think what's important is, I think the speech he gave this week was very important, and I think that congress is going to be working on a lot of the details. But the president-elect has laid out very clearly, he thinks urgent action is needed here, that's going to create jobs, many in the green job area. And I think that most of the economists involved here believe it's going to take that kind of urgent action. And I think that people respond well to that, I think that they want somebody who is going to come in here and manage this day to day, and not everything you try is going to work. But I think urgent action is needed. I think his speech did a terrific job of laying out the stakes of not acting, and obviously congress is going to work very diligently, you know, to flush this out, and a lot of members of congress have their own ideas. But at the end of the day, hopefully we have a package here that no one should expect immediate improvement, but I think its going to be a very important step to get this economy back on track.
LR: What are you all doing to ensure that the Blagojevich scandal doesn't continue to be a distraction as we head into the inaugural?
DP: Well I don't think it is a distraction, I don't think it's distracting him, or the transition at all. Obviously there is some fascination with the news media but obviously this doesn't have anything to do with the president elect. So I think it's something that the American people believe it's involved him at all. So what they're focused on is how is the president going to help get the economy back on track, help me keep my job back, help me keep my health care, or get it back if I've lost it. You know people out there are hurting in very significant ways; the likes of like we have not seen in a very, very long time. So that's what they're focused on.
LR: Why did you decide not to go into government after running the successful operation?
DP: Well, it was a two year war, really, and marathon. I've got a very young family, and to go into the administration, you've got to work 16, 18 hours a day. Just like the campaign, there are no shortcuts, and after going through the campaign, I need to spend a little bit more time at home. But again, I'll do anything I can from the outside to help the new president and the administration succeed. I'm just thrilled at all the talented people that are going inside; both into the white house operation as well as through the agencies; I think his cabinet appointments have just been stellar. So I'm going to sit back and watch with awe as they, in very, very hard circumstances, slowly make progress to lift our country.LR: You're writing a book, tell us about that. DP: Yes, well then, no one would buy the book. LR: What's the name of the book? DP: Unclear, we had a working title called Audacity to win, but once we sign with a publisher, we'll work that all out. But I think it was a great story, obviously, of someone who, when he announced for president he had been in the Illinois state senate two years ago, Hillary Clinton, the strongest front-runner we've ever had in our party, John McCain, who is the one Republican the Democratic party always feared in a general election. And so to, to overcome those odds and win, to build the grassroots campaign we did, it's a good story, and I'll try and do it justice. Now, if anyone's looking for the dirt and gossip that these books sometimes entail, you're not going to find it in this. I'm going to tell a straight story about how we did it, the people involved, the challenges we faced, and we certainly didn't do everything right, we made some mistakes along the way, but we got the big things right.
LR: What was your biggest mistake?
DP: Well me personally, was mishandling the Ohio-Texas primary back in March of 08, I think if we focused more on Texas, we might've been able to win the primary. And the price of that was that the primary went on for another three months. So that was a huge mistake that we made. But I think we got most of the big things right, and I think HE got most of the big things right; How he dealt with the Reverend Wright episode, how he dealt with the economic crisis, particularly, compared to our opponent. The American people just saw someone who was very steady and sure. And I think the long campaign benefitted us from that standpoint. Someone who comes on the scene like that, in many respects, needed two years for the American people to take his measure. He would often say, when we were in the primary, voters have every right to kick the tires and lift up the hood, and I think we benefitted from that.
LR: When do you think you were in the most peril? Was there like one moment when you were in a perilous situation? Well, most of 07 when most of the political community thought we had little chance to win, once we won Iowa I thought we'd have a fighting chance. Losing the New Hampshire primary, was for me, probably the biggest challenge. Because certainly, winning the New Hampshire primary was part of our strategy. Losing it, against a strong front runner like Hillary Clinton was concerning… Oh Wow…
Talking to kid
LR: Would you consider the reverend Wright episode a moment of peril?
DP: Oh it was… Absolutely, it was a huge challenge, but at that point we were deep into the primary, so we thought we could survive it, but there's no doubt we took a hit to the main engine. Losing the New Hampshire primary, I think the night of January of 2008, most people thought, ok order has been restored, Obama had his moment in Iowa, but ok Hillary is now going to go into the nomination, so that was a challenge. I think Reverend Wright at that point, we were, in our view, the front runner for the nomination was probably on a pathway to win based on delegates, so yeah, that was a real challenge, so obviously we dealt with it twice; we dealt with it before the Pennsylvania primary, where he gave his remarkable speech on race, but then we had to deal with it again, before the Indiana, North Carolina primaries. And so yes, it was one of the most challenging external events we faced. I think my view is, I really think his handling of the Wright episode was one of the building blocks towards the presidency. Because it bothered a lot of people, I don't want to suggest that it didn't. But they think that he handled it like a leader, like a president should. Which was to take it head on, to take the moment to speak about these challenging issues. And so I think that the race speech in Philadelphia, what are the moments that really set you on the pathway to become the forty-fourth president? And I think that was one of them.
LR: Has Obama completely cut his ties with reverend Wright?
LR: Will we see him at the inaugural?
DP: I certainly don't have any knowledge of that. To kid- yes?
LR: Have the President-elect and Mrs. Obama identified a home church yet?
DP: To the best of my knowledge, no. But I'm sure that they will.
LR: Do they plan on going to church, leaving the White House and trying to get out and…
DP: I'm not sure. I know that they are both people of faith, but what their plans are I don't know.
LR: Tell… Tell me what morning you woke up and you said to yourself, "I think we might win this thing!"
DP: In the primary, or…?
LR: In the primaries, yeah.
DP: Well for me, it was not Iowa. I knew that Iowa was basically our ticket to the finals. It was in no way then guaranteed that we would win. It was about 3 A.M. the morning of February 6th. February 5th was the day with 22 primaries, it was a day that we thought was built for Hilary Clinton. I think they thought that they would potentially close it out that night. So the fact that we survived it, but did more than that, we actually netted more delegates and won more states, we knew we had some good terrain coming up in the rest of the contests in February. So that was the first time I really thought, you know, we probably are going to be able to do this. It's going to be hard and it's going to be long, and it's not going to be apparent to everybody right away, but we're on a pathway to the nomination. I think in the general election was really after the first debate. We always knew the debates were going to be really really important, as they always are, they al… you know, it's the one office where debates can turn elections, but he had such a strong performance in an arena that is supposed to be John McCain's strength, foreign policy, that I think things begin to settle in there.
LR: When did your internal numbers starting telling you that it might be over, that he had it?
DP: Well, you know you never, you never think it's over. I think that we, see we view this through the prism of the battleground states, that all we focused on. And we really liked where the battlegrounds were lining up, really throughout the whole process. But after the first debate you begin, things settle in a little bit. And what was important was the people who had converted to Obama. There was a lot of focus in October on undecided voters and we certainly focused on them too, but the more important group was the people who had recently converted to Obama, because in many states, we were at our win number, and so we just had to hold these people. And what was interesting was that once people converted to Obama, and (parts of this) is people took the election very seriously. You know, they didn't commit 'til they were ready to say "OK. I believe this person should be our next president." Once they did that, our experience was they were really hard to shake loose. And we looked at that every day. And all the McCain attacks out there, Aires and all this other stuff, wasn't really impacting these people. So, you know, as we, as we went through October, it was pretty clear that in these battlegrounds we were strengthening. You know one interesting period was from the last debate 'til the election and that was 20 days. That's a long time, you know, 7 lifetimes really. And we had three, I mean, when's the last time someone won all three presidential debates, so we come out of there really with a huge amount of momentum and strength in the race, but we had to maintain it. It's one of the reason we did the 30 minute television ad, was to have a big moment in those last 20 days for people to focus on.
LR: Did you end up needing that 30 minute television ad? I remember there was some reporting around the time that it was pile on.
DP: I think it was helpful. I think it was, one, the ratings were higher than we thought they were going to be, so a lot of people saw them. Some undecided voters saw them, and presumably some of them decided then to vote for us off of that. But, for a lot of people I think who converted to us, it was a nice way to further lock them in, and I know organizationally it was a huge boost. I think it gave the organization a big boost and motivated our supporters and probably helped us with turnout. So, my view is, you know, we didn't, again, there's plenty of things we did that didn't work, but I wouldn't take any of them back, because, you know, you've… you've got to run through the finish line here, and the tape. And I think that's one thing we did well as an organization and he did well, which is don't let up. Don't let up. You've got to try and do everything you possibly can, up and through poll close.
LR: How would you advise the president elect and the White House to sell a budget with a $2 trillion deficit to the American people?
DP: Well, I think they're going to do a terrific job, obviously. I mean, I think his speech this week was an important first step in that regard. I think he's being honest with the American people about the challenges we face. And he's also being very clear, as he did throughout the campaign, that government needs to cut… families are being asked to cut back, and be smarter with their money, business are having to do that, small businesses and large businesses. And so government needs to be smarter, and that's why I think appointing of a performance specialist is a really smart thing to do, and I think what you're going to see is, you know, President Obama and his administration are going to… programs that aren't working, or aren't working as well as they should, they're going to be very aggressive about scaling those back, and I think that's important, because obviously the deficit is going to be huge. And it's only going to get bigger, and I think in his speech he was very clear about that, so there's no gilding the lily here. This is where we stand, we're in a very tough situation. It's going to require some, some additional government investment. But I think, at the same time, people want to see that government is willing to cut and be smarter. And I think hopefully, we're going to see a huge increase in technology in areas like health care which we hopefully save money, but I think he's going to be very very aggressive. He would often say in the campaign, he's going to go through the budget line by line, and that's what he's going to do. And I think that'll give people some comfort that at least, you know, not everyone else is being asked to sacrifice, but government in Washington's not.
LR: Which, which of the former presidents told him he was successful because he spoke directly to the American people?
DP: I don't know.
LR: Really? You don't know?
DP: I don't know. I think that's probably a conversation amongst the five of them that will largely stay…
LR: They speak that certain club language…
DP: Yes. It's a rare club indeed.
LR: Will you, will you try to use this grassroots effort to help with the, with the midterm elections, I mean the party in power is always in peril, and then you have the redistricting issue coming up? Tell me how you might be able to help that process.
DP: Well, I think it's up to our supporters. There are some people who will want to be involved in the 2010 elections, there's others that will just want to focus on issues. So part of our, you know, what we try to do in the campaign, we obviously had a goal. We had to get x number of votes in, you know, a certain state, but we tried to listen to our supporters, and they all had different ideas about how to organize and what to focus on. So I think we're going to try and be very respectful of that. I think there are people who will want to help in the 2010 elections, but it is, like I said, a half of our people who volunteered or gave had never done so again in a political campaign before. Now some of those people will probably want to stay involved in electoral politics. Others are just going to want to be involved in issues. So I think we've got to really spend some time listening to our folks and help facilitate what they want to do.
LR: Can you quantify for our viewers just what your database looks like? I mean how many email addresses do you have, how many cell phones numbers do you have, how many volunteers?
DP: Well some of that is state secret, obviously, but it's been reported that we have, you know, 13 million or so email addresses, and that would not be inaccurate. We have just about 4 million contributors and millions of volunteers. So what was amazing was the number of volunteers who spent, you know, this wasn't they'd come in the office once. You know, they were doing it 15, 20 hours a week, and really leading the campaign in their own area. And, again, for all the money we raised, all the ads we ran, his great debate performance, all that was critical obviously. But I think the real underappreciated story is the people in Marion, Indiana, and you know, in Ashville, North Carolina, and Hillsboro County, Florida, who were out there living their lives, or part of it, through the campaign every day, talking to their neighbors and colleageas, and one reason it was effective was, you know, if I talked to my family members and friends every two years about politics, you know, they're going to say, "OK. You're going… I'm going to get the same pitch from you about why I should vote for the Democratic candidate." You know, I'm a Democratic partisan and activist. But if it's someone who they've never heard about in terms of politics before, a republican, independent, someone who's been checked out for a long time, that's a hugely impactful interaction. And I think that's one of things we did well as a campaign, is we had millions of Americans out there talking about the campaign everyday. Here's Barack's plan on the economy, on jobs, also helping people respond to attacks. So if someone came up to one of our supporters in Pennsylvania and he said, "Well what's about this Bill Ayers character?" They would know what to say. And it's hard to quantify that, but we know it was really important. And so, I think going forward hopefully you're going to see, you know, that kind of engagement around the issues that are going to shape the future of the country. Again, but that's not a political campaign. It's much different, and so you know we're going to have to, you know, go through a lot of trial and error. But the one thing I know the president-elect's committed to, is making sure that Americans out in the grass roots, out in the country, feel connected to their government, and find ways to get involved, and I think, you know, there will be a huge priority on service, which I think can be a really important way to make progress on an issue that's not legislative. There's a lot that can be done in this country through leadership to accomplish goals, and my hope is that his leadership, he does inspire people to contribute their time and their talents, that that can go a long way, again in a non-legislative arena, to make progress on some of these issues we're facing.
LR: Have you started writing the book?
DP: I have not.
LR: You have not?
DP: In my mind I have.
LR: Are you writing on napkins?
DP: No. I'll probably do it on a computer.
DP: But I will, you know, it's, I think it's a great story, it's something I've given a lot of thought about, obviously I've had to do a proposal. But, you know, once we have an agreement with the publisher, I'll, I'll get to work very very quickly, and hopefully that it won't just be, you know, a story for political junkies hopefully, I think there's a lot of lessons people can take about the use of technology, about how we built a start up like that in such a quick period of time, the discipline with which we stuck to our strategy, the discipline with which we kept a lot of our internal deliberations internal. There's a lot of business applications, and I think we know a lot about, you know, the American people, particularly younger voters, what motivates them, how they get their information. I mean, what was interesting about this election was, you know, an election that was interesting in so many ways, you know, people were out there kind of hunting for their own information, and kind of their own referees, and e-mailing around websites and video clips, and you know, it, this was not a top-down exercise. And I think that, you know, we tried to embrace that, knowing that people are getting information a lot of different ways, they accept certain information better than others and they're very, you know, they're aggressive. They'll say, "I found this on the internet," and they'll send it out to 300 people in their address book. And, you know, that matters!
LR: So you knew early on that you were going to try to bypass the mainstream media and go right to the people. I mean that was part, one of your…
DP: I mean, we didn't bypass mainstream media. Mainstream media was still very important, obviously, a lot of people still watch the nightly news, and read newspapers, and newspapers on websites. But I think in addition to that, you had to know that there were people out there, not just younger voters either, a lot of senior citizens spent a lot of time online too, as you know, and hunt around for information, so let me find the truth about that tax attack that McCain is making. Or one of the reasons we did a lot of video was it was good for people to forward, so they would forward it to their friends and say, you know, here's Obama's message on the economy, or here's how the campaign's responding to this attack, and it's really impactful, because I think it's a, it's a more vibrant communication, and you know if it's someone you trust, if it's someone you've been, you know, having coffee with for 25 years, you know, you may listen a little bit more to what they have to say than what someone you didn't, you know, I would say or someone from the media would say. Someone says, "Well I've looked into this, and here's what the truth is."
LR: (Aside) I'm sorry. Ok, I saw that.
LR: What, just going back to the campaign, what impact do you think the selection of Sarah Palin had on the campaign?
DP: Well, I think, at the end of the day, the problem for McCain was, he ran on experience for a long period of time. And so, in picking Palin, he jettisoned his message, really overnight. The second thing is that a lot of voters like to think that McCain was kind of above politics, didn't do things for political reasons. And very quickly people decided that, that it was more of a political choice. I mean, say what you will about any other potential candidates, I mean most people would say that there were other candidates out there that might have been more qualified from day 1. So, that being said you know, she went out there and she did a good job of energizing their base, I think that she did help them with turnout. I've always been the belief that vice presidential selections don't make much of a difference. I think in this case perhaps there was a little bit more of the negative than what we've seen in some time, in some places in Florida, and some suburban places. But at the end of the day, this is about Obama and McCain, and that's really how voters saw it.
LR: Is Obama going to be running against her in 2012?
DP: Oh who knows. I'll say this, I don't think that, to his credit, I don't think that the reelection is going to be something that they're terribly concerned about. They've got, I don't think you can be. The country's in the ditch right now, and you've got to do everything you can to get it out. And, you know, that may mean doing some unpopular things, and it, you just can't worry about that. I don't know who's going to come, I think it'll be a fascinating primary. They're clearly having kind of an identity issue right now. And primaries have a way of sorting that out, so it'll be a fascinating contest. I do think that one of the things that we saw on the election though is our ability to win states like Virginia and North Carolina. You know those two states, graphically, have shifted. The west is really changed a lot and it's an area with great opportunity for Obama and maybe for our party, so there's some demographic shifts happening out there. And one of the important things, you might remember Karl Rove 8 years ago talking about how the fastest growing counties, most of them, went for Bush. Most of the fastest growing counties went for Obama this time, and that's a big change, now whether that, politics, like everything in our society these days, things move very very quickly. So I think the one thing that everybody should do is not take too many lessons out of 2008, because in 2010, you could have things shift back, technologies will be more advanced, and by the time he gets to reelection, a lot will have changed. So, my view is, I'm proud of the campaign that we ran, but it ought to be on the shelf a little bit, because things are going to change a lot. The world just changes very very quickly and I think everyone needs to be mindful of that.
LR: David, where are you going to be sitting on the inaugural day?
DP: Somewhere, you know, around the podium, and I'll just be thrilled. I think for a lot of us, just as in the primary, you know, we finally become the nominee the night of June 3rd, morning of June 4th we're in a full-fledged general election battle, we didn't have a chance to really sit back and appreciate what had happened, and it really wasn't 'til Denver that I think for a lot of us it had sunk in that 'Hey! We won the Democratic nomination!' even though we were two and a half months in a general election fight. It was a meaningful moment. I think the inauguration will be that as well. I think it's going to be, what's great is that so many people seem to be really excited about it, here in the country and around the world, and I think that even in these very challenging times, you know, there is some hopefulness out there that a leader like Barack Obama, if he really involves the American people and is willing to work in a very honest way with members of the other party, you know, we can make some progress, because the one thing I'm sure of, is there's not going to be a Democratic solution to the economy, or a Democratic health care plan, or a Democratic energy plan. It's got to be an American plan and effort, and if that happens, I think we can make progress, but I think for all of us that were involved in the campaign, I think for those that weren't, it's going to be really unique moment. I think I would often try and inspire people to work a little bit harder during the campaign, back in 2007, and say, "Just think about two things: the night of August 28th, when Barack Obama strides out" at that point we would have thought of the stadium, I mean, not the big Invesco thing, but the arena, but anyway, "Imagine Barack Obama on the night of August 28th, accepting the Democratic nomination, and how proud you're going to feel, and how inspired you'll feel. And then next would be the night of January 20th, the afternoon of January 20th, when Barack Obama, with his beautiful family surrounds him, becomes the 44th president. And I think for a lot of people, envisioning that was, was important, because sometimes when you're involved in a campaign, it's hard to elevate a little bit and remember what this is all about. And so I think it's going to be a really special moment, it goes without saying, but something that will, for me personally, make it real. We won the presidency and he's going to be president, and it starts right now.
LR: (Aside) I'm sorry. (To David) Do you envision yourself becoming emotional when he puts his hand on that Lincoln bible?
DP: Oh I think so. I mean, I think, I think the whole day's going to be emotional.
LR: Have you played it out in your head?
DP: Not at all. I think it's going to be emotional. I think, I think seeing him get sworn in on Lincoln's bible, I think anyone who's a student of history couldn't be moved by that, couldn't help but be moved by that. And to see his young daughters up there with him, you know what, I think it's going to be a very special American moment, and one that all of us that are fortunate enough to witness it, I think, will remember obviously for the rest of our lives.
LR: How are we doing guys? Do we have any other questions?
Off Camera: I think we're good. Is there any other news you want to make?
DP: No. I don't want to make any news.
Off Camera: Oh. This is cool. This is so cool.
DP: That's a mountains buddy. (Continues conversation with son).
LR: How was your life during the campaign? I understand you moved your family to Chicago?
DP: Yes. Yeah.
LR: How did that work out?
DP: Well Chicago is a great city, so if you're going to be marooned anywhere, that's not a bad place I guess. But I think for all of us that were involved in the campaign, I mean, for Barack, one of the real challengers about running was the time he'd spend away from his girls. So I think for all of us, it was, it was brutal, because the only way to succeed in a political campaign like that for president, is to allow to become all-consuming. You've got to be 24-7, and you've got to, you know, every moment of every day be focused. Unlike business, you know, that can go on year after year and year after year, we have an end date, and you either succeeded or not come election day. Now when we ended up having 54 of them in the primary, but then we had 1 in the general, so I think for all of us that had families and kids, it was really hard and they were kind of the unsung heroes of the campaign, because they held it together while we were off doing the campaign. And I think that all of us in the campaign talked a lot about that. One of things we would say often is we can't wait for it to be over. We wanted to know how it ended. But more importantly, we just wanted to get back to some sense of normalcy with our families. And the interesting, one of the most interesting days of the whole campaign for me was Christmas '07. The Iowa caucuses are 9 days away, 9 days away. The days leading up to that are just frenzies as you can imagine. But then there is Christmas, and all's quiet for a day. And I think for all of us it was very odd, because you would do normal things, you know, go to church, or have lunch with your family, and open up presents. And I think that in many ways, it was hard to have that reminder about what life really was like out there. But I don't think any of us would regret what we did, but it was hard on our families, and I'm sure all of us deeply appreciate the sacrifice they made.
LR: And you have a new baby, you have a 4 year old and a new baby. Were you able to be there for the birth of the second baby?
DP: I was. Our baby was born 1 A.M. November 7th, so just after the election, she had impeccable timing, and so it was great for our family to be able to have that moment together, kind of without having for me to run back to Chicago, I could just spend time with my wife and young daughter.
LR: That's great.
DP: (To son) Just be a little gentler with that.
Other interviewer: What was the demeanor that you saw with Obama on the inside that you think is most emblematic of the way he's likely to conduct himself as president?
DP: Well, I got to witness, you know, day in and day out for two years Barack Obama's demeanor, and I, in the beginning, I thought he had the potential to be a very good president. What I didn't know was could he be a good presidential candidate, those are two very different things, and he hadn't spent any time in Iowa or New Hampshire, things like that. He ended up being a phenomenal presidential candidate, but my belief in his capacity to be an excellent president, just grew over time. And this isn't me just being a hometown cheerleader. He's what you'd want in a president. He's usually the calmest person in the room. Very focused, knows what he should be involved in, and what he shouldn't be involved in. You know, he's involved in course correction when that needs to be happened, but with the right touch, and his composure is somewhat legendary, but you know, that was an external and internal thing. And a lot of campaigns, and probably in a lot of organizations, you know the mood of the boss there, you know the idiocyracies they each have, can really infect the culture of an organization right, what are they going to think about this, are they going to be upset about this, we didn't have that in our campaign, because he was just a measured, calm, good person and I think he inspired great loyalty amongst his staff, because he treated people well, he demanded high performance, no doubt about that, and I think he will in the administration, but he treated people well, and so I think that, you know, David Axelrod and I would often say throughout the course of… (son interrupts)
DP: So David Axelrod and I would both often talk you know late at night and say, you know, after a meeting or a conference call with him, say, 'this is why he should be president' and, you know, this wasn't us just engaging in fan club applause, you know, it was clear, and I think that in many respects the presidency is something that he's even better suited for than the campaign, because I think he's great at bringing people together and having discussions and setting the course and, you know, really wanting to dig down on things, and so I think that, my hope is that, any president is going to be challenged taking on what we face in this country today, but I think he's got a unique set of skills that will hopefully allow him to make real progress for the American people.
LR: Well, thank you! Thank you very much for joining us today!