David Axelrod

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David Axelrod

Template:TOCnestleft David Axelrod (born February 22, 1955 in New York City) is a long-time friend of President Barack Obama. He worked on Obama's 2008 Election campaign and served as a Senior Advisor to the President. He is director of the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics and host of The Axe Files podcast.

Early life/Leftist parents

Axelrod was born in New York in 1955 to leftist parents Joseph Axelrod and Myril Bennett Axelrod. He went to Stuyvesant High School and then studied political science at the University of Chicago.[1]

Axelrod's Mother

In the 1940s Myril Axelrod wrote for a left leaning magazine New York magazine, PM. though not officially a communist publication, several Marxists (including labour editor Leo Huberman) and Communist Party USA members worked on the paper.

Former Communist Eugene Lyons, writing in The Red Decade: The Stalinist Penetration of America, noted that PM’s staff included a former editor of the Daily Worker, former editor of The Communist, a leader of the Young Communist League USA, a Soviet government official and a former staff cartoonist for the Daily Worker, the official newspaper of the Communist Party USA.[2]

PM's Washington DC correspondent I. F. Stone was later identified as a Communist Party USA member and a Soviet intelligence agent.

One of PM’s writers, Earl Conrad, also wrote for the leftist magazine Negro Story, as did Frank Marshall Davis the Communist Party USA member who was later to mentor the young Barack Obama in Hawaii.


Axelrod is married to Susan Landau and has three children, Lauren, Michael, and Ethan.[1]

Hyde Park Herald

David Axelrod worked as a reporter at the Hyde Park Herald in the early 1970s while studying political science at the University of Chicago.

Mentored by Don Rose

David Axelrod's own mentor was a well known Chicago journalist/political activist named Don Rose.[3]

In his early years as a political consultant, Axelrod, following in the footsteps of his mentor, the political strategist Don Rose, carved out a reputation for himself as a skillful specialist working for local progressive candidates...says Rose. "I think he's a principled, generally progressive guy..."

Axelrod first met Rose in the early 1970s while studying political science at the University of Chicago and working as a reporter on the Hyde Park Herald.

Around that time Rose edited and co-owned a small newspaper called the Hyde Park-Kenwood Voices. The paper tended to follow the Communist Party USA line - campaigning for example to abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Voice's co-owner, the late David Canter had personal experience with the committee, being hauled before it and named as a Communist Party USA member in the late 1960s.

Canter and Don Rose took the young David Axelrod under their wing. They took it upon themselves to "mentor" and "educate...politically", the young journalist. Don Rose later wrote a reference letter for Axelrod that helped win him the internship at the Chicago Tribune which launched his career.

Don Rose writing to David Canter's son Marc Canter said:

"David Axelrod did not work for the Voices at any point. He was a reporter for the HP Herald while attending U of C, appearing on the scene first in 1975, just after the Voices folded–but he was familiar with our paper as a student before he got the Herald job. Your dad and i “mentored” and helped educate him politically in that capacity, which is perhaps why you may recall seeing him hanging around the house. I later wrote a reference letter for him that helped him win an internship at the Tribune, which was the next step in his journalism career."

Around 1970 Don Rose was a leader of the a well known Communist Party USA front, the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights.

The Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights executive director was Communist Party USA member Richard Criley. Other party members in leading positions included Abe Feinglass, Ernest DeMaio, Jack Spiegel, Jesse Prosten and Norman Roth.

Other radicals active in the organization included former Communist Party USA member Milt Cohen (later a founder of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America), Quentin Young, Timuel Black and Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf. The latter three all went on to join Democratic Socialists of America and to form close personal friendships with Barack Obama.

Chicago Tribune

Axelrod worked for The Chicago Tribune as an intern while studying at the University of Chicago, and was hired when he graduated in 1977. He spent eight years as a reporter for The Chicago Tribune, where he covered national, state, and local politics. In 1981, he became the youngest political writer and columnist in the paper's history. He also served as the Tribune's City Hall bureau chief. He left in 1984 to enter politics.


Paul Simon

In 1984 Axelrod worked as co-campaign manager on the election campaign of U.S. Senator Paul Simon.

Harold Washington

In 1985, following the success of the Paul Simon campaign, Axelrod formed a political consultancy company, Axelrod & Associates. In 1987 he worked on the successful re-election campaign for Harold Washington as mayor of Chicago.

Rainbow Coalition

Political consultant David Axelrod would later join the Washington reelection team that worked closely with Rainbow Coalition founders and organizers. Axelrod appropriated and enhanced Rainbow Coalition methods and rhetoric and applied them to media strategy, which he used to build his very successful political consulting career.

Axelrod’s niche is using the idealism of the Rainbow Coalition’s identity politics to persuade predominately white electorates to vote for black candidates. He helped to run the campaigns of many of the black candidates who ran for mayor, state senate, governor, or U.S. Senate between 1987-2008 and won. For example, he was involved in Dennis Archer’s ascension to mayor of Detroit, Michael White’s mayoral victory in Cleveland, Anthony Williams’s mayoral victory in Washington, D.C., Lee Brown’s mayoral victory in Houston, and John Street’s mayoral victory in Philadelphia. Axelrod was also behind Deval Patrick’s clinching of the governorship in Massachusetts and Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate victory in Illinois.

Obama was actually introduced to the ideals of Rainbow Coalition politics by David Axelrod after Obama’s only political defeat at the hands of the original Rainbow Coalition founder and former Illinois Black Panther, U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush from Illinois. Obama challenged the incumbent Rush by using a Black Nationalist agenda and approach. Rush used the Rainbow Coalition, which transcends race by locating commonalities, and defeated Obama by more than a 2-1 margin.[4]

“Obama’s election as a the forty-fourth U.S. president is a direct result of David Axelrod’s campaign skills which he honed as a member of Harold Washington’s team and which others have also documented was no doubt ‘a defining moment in the formation of his political consciousness.”[5]

Barack Obama

Meeting Barack Obama

Through Project Vote, a voter registration drive that Obama worked on in 1992, he met David Axelrod, a former Chicago Tribune reporter and chief consultant to Chicago mayors Harold Washington and Richard M. Daley who has been Obama's chief strategist since 2002.[6]

Obama met Axelrod through one of Project Vote’s supporters, Bettylu Saltzman, whose father, Philip Klutznick, was a Chicago shopping-mall tycoon, a part owner of the Bulls, and a former Commerce Secretary in the Carter Administration. Saltzman, a soft-spoken activist who worked for Senators Adlai Stevenson III and Paul Simon, took a strong interest in Obama.[7]

Myril Axelrod, however claims that "community organizer" Obama and David Axelrod met when Axelrod was still working for the Hyde Park Herald.[8]

Adviser to Barack Obama

David Axelrod has advised Barack Obama since 2002 when Obama called him, asking for advice on his plans to deliver his famed anti-war speech.[9] Obama also asked him to read drafts of his book, The Audacity of Hope in 2006.[10]

In 2004, when President Obama was a member of the Illinois State Senate, Axelrod helped him defeat a primary field of six other Democrats and go on to a landslide win in his U.S. Senate campaign.[1]

2008 Election Campaign

David Axelrod

Axelrod served as the chief strategist and media advisor for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. While the Clinton campaign chose an incumbent strategy that emphasized experience, Axelrod helped to craft the Obama campaign's main theme of "change."

Sam Smith, a close friend of Axelrod's observed that, "Axelrod has decided that this first-term senator, just 46 years old, is something extraordinary, someone to compare to his earliest political idol, Robert F. Kennedy. This time he found a candidate who isn't letting him down," Smith says. "Obama is the one different guy."[11]

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.[12]

Senior Adviser to the President

Barack Obama named Axelrod as a Senior Advisor to his administration when he entered office on Nov. 20, 2008.[13] Prior to this position, he served as Senior Advisor to the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition and Senior Strategist to Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency. 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.[1]


Axelrod served 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. He has also lectured on political media at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania.[1]

Axelrod & Associates

Axelrod founded the Chicago-based Axelrod & Associates, a political consultancy company in 1985 following his successful co-management of U.S. Senator Paul Simon's campaign in 1984. The company has worked on the campaigns of Dennis Archer, Detroit; Michael R. White, Cleveland; Anthony A. Williams, Washington, D.C.; Lee P. Brown, Houston; Richard M. Daley, Chicago Mayor; and John F. Street, Philadelphia.[14]

Axelrod launched the firm with a mission—to provide superior strategic and communications advice and advertising for Democratic candidates and causes, and to do so with a sense of purpose and passion for ideals that underlie Democratic campaigns. The firm later became AKPD Message and Media.[15]

Since 1988, he has been Senior Partner at the firm, managing the media strategy and communications for more than 150 local, state, and national campaigns, with a focus on progressive candidates and causes.

In 2006, Axelrod ran the independent expenditure media program for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, helping Democrats regain the majority in the House of Representatives. That same year, Axelrod served as media adviser to Deval Patrick, who was elected Massachusetts's first Democratic governor in 16 years and the state's first-ever African American governor.[1]

Health Care Reform Campaigning

On April 15, 2009, Jim Messina and Jon Selib, chief of staff to Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, convened a meeting at the headquarters of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with leaders of organized labor and health care groups, including PhRMA. At the meeting, the groups decided to form two nonprofit entities to promote reform efforts, Healthy Economy Now and Americans for Stable Quality Care, that would be almost entirely funded by PhRMA. The two groups spent $24 million on their advertising campaigns; the contract to produce and place ads went to White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod's former firm, AKPD (formerly Axelrod & Associates), which owed Axelrod $2 million.[16]

Preparing for 2012

Democratic national national committee Chair Tim Kaine wrote on January 20, 2010, "President Obama will be putting together a re-election team and his 2012 campaign will be based in Chicago starting in March or April of this year.

David Axelrod and Jim Messina will be leaving the White House to begin work on the re-election campaign once it is formed. David Plouffe, who managed the President's 2008 campaign, is now working at the White House as Senior Advisor to the President.

Of more direct impact on the DNC's day-to-day operations will be the transition of our Executive Director, Jen O'Malley Dillon, who will be leaving us sometime after our February DNC meeting and will become a Deputy Campaign manager when the re-election campaign is formed. Jen will be working directly with Jim Messina and will have as part of her portfolio being a liaison from the re-election campaign to the DNC.

Jen has had a very important role here at the DNC and I wanted to make sure that we continue to have strong leadership in our Executive Director position. Therefore, I am pleased to let you know that Patrick Gaspard will be coming to us from the White House to join us as our new DNC Executive Director upon Jen's departure.

I would like to share with you why I'm so excited that Patrick will be joining us at the DNC.

Most importantly, Patrick Gaspard is a great person. He is a key Assistant to President Obama, having served as the Political Director of the White House for the last two years and before that as Political Director to President Obama's campaign. He understands the importance of grassroots politics and team building. He is someone with whom I have worked closely and I look forward to working with him even more closely at the DNC. Many of you already know Patrick and I'm excited that he will be bringing his leadership skills to his new role as our Executive Director.[17]

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