Political strategist recalls days with President Obama

By Diamond Hillyer

Politics is too much about money, sound bites and snarky TV talk, President Obama’s former campaign manager told an open auditorium in Baltimore Monday night.

David Plouffe, who is also a political strategist,  said he has learned that the core of politics has not changed much over the years, adding that politicians must set an agenda if they hope to win an election.

He told the auditorium of roughly 80 people that they should continue to pay attention to politics even if they are generally uninterested in political affairs because they are the people  who matter.

David Plouffe talks to a Baltimore audience about his days on the campaign trail with President Obama. Photo by Diamond Hillyer.

David Plouffe talks to a Baltimore audience about his days on the campaign trail with President Obama.
Photo by Diamond Hillyer.

Plouffe said he began his journey into politics by working on the senate campaign of  Sam Beard. Back then, working into a political career meant climbing a “hierarchy,” he said. Plouffe said that young people today are able to move up the career ladder more quickly.

Before working on Obama’s presidential campaigns, Plouffe worked with Obama in 2002 and 2003 for his fight to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. He said Obama had little money and a lack of support at that time.

“We just knew he didn’t stand a chance,” Plouffe said. “I mean, Barack Hussein Obama? Come on,” Plouffe said, placing the emphasis on Obama’s middle name. He said the idea of Obama running for president was far-fetched for everyone at that time.

Plouffe said many people warned Obama about the challenges of running for president, including running against the then favorite for the Democratic nomination, former first lady Hillary Clinton. He said supporters also warned Obama that he would lose a substantial amount of time with his family and possibly face the embarrassment of losing.

Plouffe said Obama responded by saying, “Sometimes you can’t choose timing, timing chooses you.”

Despite these challenges, Obama’s amazing momentum helped him win the 2008 election, Plouffe said.  Plouffe said his favorite part about the election was seeing usually inactive demographics, such as young people, involved during Obama’s campaign.

“I’m not here to persuade you to like Obama,” Plouffe said, acknowledging the president’s low approval ratings. “But I will tell you that he tried to do everything he said that he would.”

He admired Obama’s stamina and persistence through both campaigns, he said, because elections can be brutal. Plouffe said the poor economy made the president’s second run more difficult.  When the economy is bad, Plouffe said, an incumbent’s chances of reelection are low.

Obama’s stamina through all of this was even more commendable, he said, because the majority of people do not survive campaigns.

“Most people will get chewed up and spit out,” he said.

Plouffe called Obama a “saint.” He said the president would always say that he was not elected to occupy the White House, but to go to Washington and do something.

During Obama’s 2008 campaign, Plouffe said it was pure ecstasy.  However, the 2012 campaign proved to be much more of a challenge, he said.

“The 2012 campaign was much grittier,” Plouffe said. “It was going to be a dog fight.”

To continue that momentum Plouffe said earned Obama his first presidential term, the best thing they did was adapt. The campaign team had to unlearn everything it did in the first campaign if Obama was going to win the 2012 election, he said.

Plouffe gave his recollections of pivotal White House moments, such as the exhilaration felt the night Osama Bin Laden was killed, and the most difficult time of Obama’s presidency, the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings.

“It was Christmas time, and as you all know, that is a largely celebrated holiday at the White House,” Plouffe said, confessing that it was hard even for him in front of the auditorium to speak about the shootings. “So, there was a dichotomy between that, and an incredible sadness.”

After his work with Obama, Plouffe said that his new position as vice  president of  policy and strategy at Uber has helped him maintain a front row seat to the economy.

He said that cars are the least-utilized asset in the world, being used only 4 percent of the time.

Uber, a mobile app based transportation service, is used in over 56 countries. Plouffe said he wanted to work for the company to help alleviate the growing traffic congestion in big cities like San Francisco.

Uber’s ultimate goal is to get more cars off of the road, he said. It also allows drivers to be paid more when more people are in the car, and for the clients to pay less.

Plouffe encouraged students to travel more, not because of Uber, but because of the experience they will gain living in foreign places.

Plouffe was recently inducted into the American Association of Political Consultants Hall of Fame. His book, The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory, became a New York Times bestseller as well.


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