Inside the Obama campaign: Former campaign manager Plouffe's book revisits 2008
By Garance Franke-Ruta
Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's book about the 2008 contest, The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory, is scheduled for release Nov. 3.
On Thursday, Time magazine published a lengthy excerpt of the book, to be published by Viking, a member of the Penguin Group Inc, that adds some fine-grained details to contemporaneous reports about where Hillary and Bill Clinton figured in Obama's vice presidential selection process -- and what Obama staffers first thought about Joe Biden. Plouffe writes:
What surprised me at [our first meeting to discuss the vice presidency] was that Obama was clearly thinking more seriously about picking Hillary Clinton than Ax and I had realized. He said if his central criterion measured who could be the best VP, she had to be included in that list. She was competent, could help in Congress, would have international bona fides and had been through this before, albeit in a different role. He wanted to continue discussing her as we moved forward.
We met again a couple of weeks later in mid-June and winnowed the list down to about 10 names.
At our next meeting, we narrowed the list down to six. Barack continued to be intrigued by Hillary. "I still think Hillary has a lot of what I am looking for in a VP," he said to us. "Smarts, discipline, steadfastness. I think Bill may be too big a complication. If I picked her, my concern is that there would be more than two of us in the relationship."
Neither Ax nor I were fans of the Hillary option. We saw her obvious strengths, but we thought there were too many complications, both pre-election and postelection, should we be so fortunate as to win. Still, we were very careful not to object too forcefully. This needed to be his call.
We had initially received a lot of advice from many of her supporters to pick her, though this "advice" was perhaps more accurately described as subtle pressure. Their fervor was abating a bit every day, though, helped by Hillary's comments that this was Obama's decision and that he should be left to make it.
In early August, he narrowed his list down to three names: Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana and Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia. Hillary did not make the last cut. At the end of the day, Obama decided that there were just too many complications outweighing the potential strengths. But I gave him a lot of credit for so seriously thinking about his fierce former rival. Some in the Clinton orbit thought we gave Hillary short shrift. My view is that any serious consideration was somewhat surprising given all the complications and the toxicity during the primary campaign.
Shortly before he took off for Hawaii and his much needed vacation, Obama asked Axelrod and me to meet with the three finalists. [We] pieced together a schedule that had us departing Chicago at 5:30 a.m. for Wilmington, Del., to meet with Biden; then on to West Virginia, where Bayh was vacationing with his family; and then to Virginia to meet with Kaine.
The [first] meeting started with Biden launching into a nearly 20-minute monologue that ranged from the strength of our campaign in Iowa ("I literally wouldn't have run if I knew the steamroller you guys would put together"); to his evolving views of Obama ("I wasn't sure about him in the beginning of the campaign, but I am now"); why he didn't want to be VP ("The last thing I should do is VP; after 36 years of being the top dog, it will be hard to be No. 2"); why he was a good choice ("But I would be a good soldier and could provide real value, domestically and internationally"); and everything else under the sun. Ax and I couldn't get a word in edgewise.
It confirmed what we suspected: this dog could not be taught new tricks. But the conversation also confirmed our positive assumptions: his firm grasp of issues, his blue collar sensibilities and the fact that while he would readily accept the VP slot if offered, he was not pining for it....
Later that night, we held a conference call with Obama to brief him on our day. "Well, it sounds like you both are for Biden, but barely," he said. "I really haven't settled this yet in my own mind. It's a coin toss now between Bayh and Biden, but Kaine is still a distinct possibility. I know the experience attack people will make if we pick him. But if that really concerned me, I wouldn't have run in the first place. My sense is -- and you tell me if the research backs this up -- that Barack Hussein Obama is change enough for people. I don't have to convince people with my VP selection that I am serious about change."
The selection of his vice-presidential nominee was his first presidential decision. On the evening of Aug. 17, he called Ax and me with the news. "I've decided," he said. "It's Biden."
Time magazine has more.
Web Politics Editor
October 29, 2009; 3:02 PM ET
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