Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know Before Reading Plouffe’s ‘Audacity To Win’


TPMDC is thankful today for political books that aren’t boring or retread, and David Plouffe’s “The Audacity to Win” fits into that category.

Plouffe ran the Obama campaign in 2008 and still does work for the DNC’s campaign arm Organizing for America. He dishes in his book on some of the campaign’s best-kept secrets.

We’ve reported on a few since the book came out – the Obama camp leaked the John Edwards haircut, they pushed for an early state campaign pledge to “box in” Hillary Clinton and Edwards offered to endorse for a spot on the ticket.

But there’s so much more.

I covered the entire long campaign, and it was fascinating to read a candid book and peek under the hood at what had been a famously tight-lipped shop.

There are plenty of examples of Plouffe being cheap, and a few mentions of Plouffe and Robert Gibbs in their boxers.

After the jump, TPMDC’s Top 10 things that Plouffe reveals in “Audacity to Win.”* Shouting match:

At one point of high stress, Plouffe and David Axelrod “got into a heated shouting match” on a daily conference call. (Plouffe did many early-morning calls from his bathroom so he didn’t wake his family.)

“For the first time, we blew up at each other,” he wrote. F-bombs were involved. Jim Messina, now a deputy White House chief of staff, told Plouffe the fight was “horrible.”

“It was like watching your parents have a screaming match at the dinner table,” Messina told Plouffe.

He and Axelrod apologized to each other, with Plouffe telling his longtime friend, “It was bound to happen once.”

* He had planned to leave

One of the most surprising reveals in “Audacity to Win” is that Plouffe never planned to stay through the general election. His wife, who had given him a positive pregnancy test wrapped up as a present during the brutal primary in Ohio, was due two days before the election and he’d been missing her and his young son all year as the primary stretched on. (And on.)

“In early spring I told Barack that once we had sealed the nomination I would step down as campaign manager. … I could no longer run the show in Chicago,” he wrote.

Plouffe’s wife had returned to Washington and essentially couch-surfed with friends and family. “I couldn’t stomach not being there to help,” Plouffe wrote.

“Barack was not happy with my decision … several members of the staff expressed [to my wife] their personal alarm at the disruption it would cause … there was no time to spare for a leadership transition.”

In the end, it was Plouffe’s wife who convinced him to stay, telling him “[W]e have an obligation to do everything we can to elect him in November.”

* Bush called Obama

During the whole “suspend the campaign, fly back to Washington” scuffle between Sen. John McCain and Obama, the Democrat talked to then-President George W. Bush. Obama told Plouffe his conversation with Bush was “interesting.”

“He doesn’t seem all that thrilled about holding the meeting. Almost apologetic,” Obama told Plouffe.

Obama added that Bush said, “I know what it’s like to be in the middle of a presidential campaign and have something like this dumped on you … I’m not sure why McCain thinks this is a good idea. But I have to move forward.”

* LOL – Texting Went Wrong

Plouffe said the campaign had planned to text supporters in the morning their choice of Joe Biden to be Obama’s running mate. But it didn’t quite work out that way.

“Shortly after midnight, the Associated Press was the first to name Biden as the pick. Their story was based on one unnamed Democratic source. One. It sounded pretty thin to me. … I was absolutely convinced they did not have it directly … I understood the competition to be first. But I felt this was a real low moment in terms of reporting in the campaign, and I subsequently learned that some of the AP reporters were uncomfortable as well. They knew their story was shaky but their bosses said to go regardless. We started sending out texts right away. … We felt good that it held as long as it did and that most of our supporters heard from us first.”

* Bayh wasn’t sure he could deliver Indiana

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) was among the three finalists in the veepstakes, but “was modest about his ability to help deliver the state,” Plouffe wrote.

“I don’t know if I can help push you over the line there. I assume it won’t hurt, but I couldn’t in good conscience say those eleven Hoosier electoral votes will be in your column if it’s Obama-Bayh,” Bayh told Plouffe. (They did win it.)

* Initial battleground list was bigger

The first campaign map of hopeful states included the ultimate battlegrounds that delivered Obama the presidency, but also a few longshots.

Among those: Montana, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota.
At the time, campaign aides mentioned those but not Texas, and at first thought Alaska was possible (before the GOP ticket was formed).

Obama told Plouffe: “I’m not really interested in spending my time dreaming up landslide scenarios. Let’s just make sure we hit 270. I don’t want to get 260 wishing for 360.”

* Wright was wrong

When Rev. Jeremiah Wright exploded onto the scene, Plouffe, Axelrod and Gibbs pressed him on whether he knew about some of his fiery sermons.

“I don’t recall any of these parts of these sermons,” Obama told the group. “From time to time – and it was fairly rare – Wright would say something I thought crossed the line or was even in poor taste. I would often come up to him after and say so, and he and I would sometimes have heated disagreements. But I’m positive I never heard anything like this.”

He also told them parishoners found Wright to be “more erratic over time.”

Plouffe also revealed, “He had told me in the middle of the Wright episode during the Pennsylvania primary that he would end his candidacy if he honestly thought Hillary had a better chance of winning and that he really was damaged electoral goods.”

* Stellar fundraising

Plouffe writes there were days when they raised up to $2 million during the general election campaign, making the team grateful they’d opted out of the public financing system.

“It was like watching a volcano erupt … There were times when we were raising $250,000, $300,000, even $500,000 an hour. (Plouffe also thought Sarah Palin gave them a big bank account boost.)

* Attacks on taxing health care

Obama told Plouffe he didn’t like the way the campaign was attacking McCain on his proposal to tax health care benefits as “the biggest middle-class tax increase in history.”

“Obama was unhappy when he saw the ads and demanded less drama,” Plouffe wrote. Obama told the campaign: “I don’t think people will find that charge credible, and while I can make the case that it’s true, I think it puts too much spin on the ball.”

The irony, of course, is that taxing benefits is among the proposals being considered in the current health care debate.

* Slogan in doubt

Obama told his staffers he was “not sold” on the “Change We Can Believe In” slogan that ended up being the centerpiece of the campaign.

“Do you really think it says enough? Nothing about issues at all,” Obama told Plouffe.

Plouffe says he also found it “a bit awkward and perhaps ephemeral. But it also had potential because it was a bit unusual and could reinforce our message.”