- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama has overcome the difficult task of building a competitive presidential campaign staff since announcing the creation of his exploratory committee Jan. 16.

The Illinois Democrat’s success in quickly assembling a staff is remarkable because his decision to enter the 2008 presidential campaign was reached only in the past two months. Other leading Democratic candidates — including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina — have been preparing their presidential runs for months, if not years.

Mr. Obama has relied on friends such as David Plouffe to manage his staff and jump-start the hiring process as the campaign manager and secured David Axelrod to handle advertising and press relations. Both men are based in Chicago and worked with Mr. Obama on his 2004 senatorial election.

Mr. Obama credits his Chicago background with the ease with which he has mobilized his presidential campaign.

“I am sometimes amused when people say how tough the politics are in Washington, because they’ve never been to Chicago,” Mr. Obama said. “We like our politics in Chicago and we have some of the most seasoned political hands coming out of that city and the state of Illinois.”

Mr. Axelrod, a former Chicago Tribune columnist turned consultant, has been active in politics since 1985, when he founded Chicago-based Axelrod and Associates, now AKP Message and Media.

He most recently worked with Mr. Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign and with former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who are now rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Plouffe — the “P” in AKP — also has worked on numerous campaigns.

Aside from the Chicago connection, campaign observers say, it is Mr. Obama who has made the task easy.

“They are lined up outside his door. Everyone in that business who wants to get in the White House has to have a horse, and if you are not with Hillary Rodham Clinton, he is the horse,” said Stephen Hess, professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.

Mr. Hess said that such success in building a staff is unusual for a senator. As governors, Mr. Vilsack and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have staff who can transition to a campaign and are accustomed to running massive operations, he said.

Mr. Hess said the Obama campaign has hired several staffers from the offices of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. Those who worked for Mr. Daschle are Juliana Smoot, expected to be the campaign finance director; Dan Pfeiffer, the traveling press secretary; Steve Hildebrand, the early state director; and Paul Tewes.

Bill Burton, the Obama campaign’s national press secretary, worked on the 2004 presidential campaign of House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. Cassandra Butts, who will be the policy director, worked as a staffer in Mr. Gephardt’s leadership office.

Robert Gibbs is national press secretary. Pollsters are Paul Harstad, who worked with the campaign of Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat; and Cornell Belcher, who worked with the Democratic National Committee for the midterm election last year and is regarded as the pre-eminent pollster for black voters.

Devorah Adler has temporarily left the DNC to serve as Mr. Obama’s research director. Alyssa Mastromonaco, who worked as political director for Mr. Obama’s political action committee, will oversee scheduling and advance work.

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