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David Axelrod

Axelrod in the Oval Office, 2009

Assumed office 
January 20, 2009
Serving with Peter Rouse and Valerie Jarrett
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Barry Jackson

Born February 22, 1955 (1955-02-22) (age 54)
Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Susan Landau
Children Lauren Axelrod, Michael Axelrod, Ethan Axelrod
Alma mater University of Chicago
Occupation Senior Advisor to President Obama
Religion Judaism

David M. Axelrod (born February 22, 1955) is an American political consultant based in Chicago, Illinois. He is best known as a top political advisor to President Barack Obama, first in Obama's 2004 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Illinois and later as chief strategist for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Following the 2008 election, he was appointed as Senior Advisor to President Obama.[1]

Axelrod is the founder of AKP&D Message and Media, was a political writer for the Chicago Tribune, and operated ASK Public Strategies. He is also a supporter of Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who helped Axelrod begin his firm (under the name Axelrod and Associates).


Early life

Born in New York's Lower East Side, Axelrod grew up in a middle-class Jewish household and showed a passion for politics early. Axelrod grew up in Stuyvesant Town on the east side of Manhattan,[2] attending Public School 40. Axelrod's father was a psychologist and avid baseball fan.[3] His mother worked as a journalist at PM, a left-wing 1940s newspaper. At the age of eight Axelrod's parents separated. Axelrod traces his political involvement back to his childhood. Describing the appeal of politics, he told the Los Angeles Times, "I got into politics because I believe in idealism. Just to be a part of this effort that seems to be rekindling the kind of idealism that I knew when I was a kid, it's a great thing to do.[4] So I find myself getting very emotional about it."

At just thirteen years old, he was selling campaign buttons for Robert F. Kennedy.

After graduating from New York's Stuyvesant High School[3] in 1973, Axelrod attended the University of Chicago. He majored in political science. As an undergraduate, Axelrod wrote for the Hyde Park Herald, covering politics, and picked up an internship at the Chicago Tribune. They hired him when he graduated in 1977.

While at the University of Chicago, he met his future wife, business student Susan Landau, there. They were married in 1979. In June 1981, Susan gave birth to their daughter, Lauren, who was soon diagnosed with epilepsy.[5]


At the age of twenty-seven, Axelrod became the City Hall Bureau Chief and a political columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He worked at the Tribune for eight years, covering national, state and local politics, and became the youngest political writer there in 1981.[6] Unhappy with his prospects at the Tribune, in 1984 he joined the campaign of U.S. Senator Paul Simon as communications director; within weeks he was promoted to co-campaign manager.[7 ]

In 1985, Axelrod formed a political consultancy company, Axelrod & Associates. In 1987 he worked on the successful reelection campaign of Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, while also helping to spearhead Simon's campaign for the 1988 Democratic Presidential nomination. This established his first experience in working with black politicians and he later became a key player in similar mayoral campaigns of blacks, including Dennis Archer in Detroit, Michael R. White in Cleveland, Anthony A. Williams in Washington, D.C., Lee P. Brown in Houston, and John F. Street in Philadelphia.[2] Axelrod is a longtime strategist for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and styles himself a "specialist in urban politics."

In January 1990, Axelrod was hired to be the media consultant for the all but official re-election campaign of Oregon Governor Neil Goldschmidt.[8] However, Goldschmidt announced in February that he would not seek re-election.[9]

In 2002, Axelrod was retained by the Liberal Party of Ontario to help Dalton McGuinty and his party to be elected into government in the October 2003 election. Axelrod's effect on Ontario was heard through the winning Liberal appeal to "working families" and placing an emphasis on positive policy contrasts like canceling corporate tax breaks to fund education and health.

In 2004, Axelrod worked for John Edwards' presidential campaign. During the campaign, he lost responsibility for making ads, but continued as the campaign's spokesman. Regarding Edwards' failed 2004 presidential campaign, Axelrod has commented, "I have a whole lot of respect for John, but at some point the candidate has to close the deal and — I can’t tell you why — that never happened with John."[10 ][11 ]

In 2006, Axelrod consulted for several campaigns, including for the successful campaigns of Eliot Spitzer in New York's gubernatorial election and for Deval Patrick in Massachusetts's gubernatorial election. Axelrod also served in 2006 as the chief political adviser for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair U.S. Representative Rahm Emanuel for the U.S. House of Representatives elections, in which the Democrats gained 31 seats.

Until recently, Axelrod also worked as an Adjunct Professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University, where he, along with Professor Peter Miller, taught an undergraduate class titled Campaign Strategy, a class that analyzed political campaigns, the strategies used by them, and the effectiveness of those strategies. [12]

On June 14, 2009 Axelrod received an honorary "Doctor of Humane Letters" degree from DePaul University, speaking at the commencement exercises of the College of Communication and College of Computing and Digital Media.[13]

Barack Obama presidential campaign

Axelrod's ties with Obama reach back more than a decade. Axelrod met Obama in 1992 when Obama so impressed Betty Lu Saltzmann, a woman from Chicago's "lakefront liberal crowd," during a black voter registration drive he ran that she then introduced the two. Obama also consulted Axelrod before he delivered his famed 2002 anti-war speech[14] and asked him to read drafts of his book, The Audacity of Hope.[15]

Axelrod served as the chief strategist and media advisor for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Axelrod contemplated taking a break from the 2008 presidential campaign, as five of the candidates —Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards, Christopher Dodd, and Tom Vilsack — were past clients. Personal ties between Axelrod and Hillary Clinton also made it difficult, as she had done significant work on behalf of epilepsy causes for a foundation co-founded by Axelrod's wife and mother, Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) (Axelrod's daughter suffers from developmental disabilities associated with chronic epileptic seizures.) Axelrod's wife even said that a 1999 conference Clinton convened to find a cure for the condition was "one of the most important things anyone has done for epilepsy."[16 ]

However, Axelrod decided to participate in the Obama campaign. Ultimately, he viewed Obama's potential candidacy as inspirational and historic. He often likens Obama to Robert F. Kennedy and told The Washington Post, "I thought that if I could help Barack Obama get to Washington, then I would have accomplished something great in my life."[3]

Axelrod contributed to the initial announcement of Obama's campaign by creating a five-minute Internet video released January 16, 2007.[17 ][18] He continued to use 'man on the street' style biographical videos to create intimacy and authenticity in the political ads.

Axelrod talking to reporters in the "spin room" after the Cleveland Democratic debate in February 2008

While the Clinton campaign chose an incumbent strategy that emphasized experience, Axelrod helped to craft the Obama campaign's main theme of "change." Axelrod criticized the Clinton campaign's positioning by saying that "being the consummate Washington insider is not where you want to be in a year when people want change...[Clinton's] initial strategic positioning was wrong and kind of played into our hands."[19] The change message played a factor in Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses. "Just over half of [Iowa's] Democratic caucus-goers said change was the No. 1 factor they were looking for in a candidate, and 51 percent of those voters chose Barack Obama," said CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider. "That compares to only 19 percent of 'change' caucus-goers who preferred Clinton."[20] Axelrod also believed that the Clinton campaign underestimated the importance of the caucus states. "For all the talent and the money they had over there," says Axelrod, "they — bewilderingly — seemed to have little understanding for the caucuses and how important they would become."[20] In the 2008 primary season, Obama won a majority of the states that use the caucus format.

Axelrod is credited with implementing a strategy that encourages the participation of people, a lesson drawn partly from Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign as well as a personal goal of Barack Obama. Axelrod explained to Rolling Stone, "When we started this race, Barack told us that he wanted the campaign to be a vehicle for involving people and giving them a stake in the kind of organizing he believed in. According to Axelrod getting volunteers involved became the legacy of the campaign "[21 ] This includes drawing on "Web 2.0" technology and viral media to support a grassroots strategy. Obama's web platform allows supporters to blog, create their own personal page, and even phonebank from home. Axelrod's elaborate use of the Internet has helped Obama to organize under-30 voters and build over 475,000 donors in 2007, most of whom were Internet donors contributing less than $100 each.[22] The Obama strategy stood in contrast to Hillary Clinton's campaign, which benefited from high name recognition, large donors and strong support among established Democratic leaders.

The Politico described Axelrod as 'soft-spoken' and 'mild-mannered'[23] and it quoted one Obama aide in Chicago as saying, "Do you know how lucky we are that he is our Mark Penn?"[24] Democratic consultant and former colleague Dan Fee said of Axelrod, "He's a calming presence."[25 ] "He's not a screamer, like some of these guys," political advisor Bill Daley said of Axelrod in the Chicago Tribune. "He has a good sense of humor, so he's able to defuse things."[7 ]

Senior Advisor to the President

On November 20, 2008, Barack Obama named Axelrod as a Senior Advisor to his administration. The role is similar in status to that of Karl Rove in the George W. Bush administration or the role of James Carville in the Bill Clinton administration. [26] His role includes crafting policy and communicating the President's message in coordination with President Obama, the Obama Administration, speechwriters, and the White House communications team.

In a 2009 interview on CNN, Axelrod indicated that President Obama was working with lawmakers to remove the anti-choice Stupak–Pitts Amendment from the health care bill.[27]


  1. ^ Smith, Ben (November 19, 2008). "Ben Smith's Blog: Axelrod, and other senior staff". Politico. Retrieved November 19, 2008.  
  2. ^ a b Hayes, Christopher (February 6, 2007). "Obama's Media Maven". The Nation. Retrieved October 28, 2008.  
  3. ^ a b c Kaiser, Robert G. (May 2, 2008). "The Player at Bat - David Axelrod, the Man With Obama's Game Plan, Is Also the Candidate's No. 1 Fan". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 6, 2008.  
  4. ^ La Ganga, Maria L. (February 15, 2008). "The man behind Obama's message". Los Angeles Times.,1,2986209.story. Retrieved April 28, 2008.  
  5. ^ Greene, Melissa Fay (February 15, 2009). "I Must Save My Child". Parade Magazine. Retrieved February 15, 2009.  
  6. ^ "Partners — David Axelrod". AKPD Message and Media. Retrieved April 28, 2008.  
  7. ^ a b Reardon, Patrick T. (June 24, 2007). "The Agony and the Agony". Chicago Tribune.,1,3883059.htmlstory. Retrieved April 4, 2008.  
  8. ^
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Montgomery, David (February 15, 2007). "Barack Obama's On-Point Message Man". Washington Post. Retrieved 08-04-22.  
  11. ^ Wallace-Wells, Ben (April 1, 2007). "Obama's Narrator". Retrieved April 22, 2008.  
  12. ^
  13. ^ Commencement '09 DePaul University Newsline Online, May 20, 2009
  14. ^ Becker, Jo; Christopher Drew (May 11, 2008). "Obama's Pragmatic Politics, Forged on the South Side". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2008.  
  15. ^ Scott, Janny (May 18, 2008). "Obama’s Story, Written by Obama". The New York Times. Retrieved May 18, 2008.  
  16. ^ Wallace-Wells, Ben (March 30, 2007). "A star strategist offers Democrats a new vision". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved May 6, 2008.  
  17. ^ "Biography of Barack Obama" (Video from Barack Obama's exploratory committee). YouTube. January 16, 2007.  
  18. ^ Obama, Barack (January 16, 2007). "My Plans for 2008" (Obama's YouTube video announcement of that he would file papers on January 16, 2007 to form an exploratory committee). barackobamadotcom. Retrieved November 11, 2008.  
  19. ^ Tumulty, Karen (May 8, 2008). "The Five Mistakes Clinton Made". Time.,8599,1738331,00.html. Retrieved Nov 2, 2009.  
  20. ^ a b Crowley, Candy (January 4, 2008). "Obama wins Iowa as candidate for change". CNN. Retrieved May 8, 2008.  
  21. ^ Dickinson, Tim (March 20, 2008). "The Machinery of Hope". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 28, 2008.  
  22. ^ Stirland, Sarah Lai (February 14, 2008). "The Tech of Obamamania: Online Phone Banks, Mass Texting and Blogs". Wired. Retrieved February 21, 2008.  
  23. ^ Simon, Roger (March 20, 2007). "The Democrats Turn Tough -- on Each Other". Retrieved May 8, 2008.  
  24. ^ Brown, Carrie Budoff (April 27, 2008). "Obama team remains unshaken and unstirred". Retrieved April 28, 2008.  
  25. ^ Fitzgerald, Thomas (December 30, 2007). "Helping hone Obama's pitch". Retrieved May 7, 2008.  
  26. ^ Obama taps Axelrod for senior White House adviser role
  27. ^ White House Advisor Indicates Obama Will Work to Abolish Pro-Life Health Amendment

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