David Axelrod (political consultant)

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For other persons with this name, see David Axelrod (disambiguation)

David Axelrod
David Axelrod in 2015.jpg
Axelrod in 2015
Senior Advisor to the President
In office
January 20, 2009 January 10, 2011
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Barry Jackson
Succeeded by David Plouffe
Personal details
Born (1955-02-22) February 22, 1955 (age 64)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Susan Landau(m. 1979)
Education University of Chicago (BA)

David M. Axelrod (born February 22, 1955) is an American political consultant and analyst, best known for being the Chief Strategist for Barack Obama's presidential campaigns.

Barack Obama 44th president of the United States

Barack Hussein Obama II is an American attorney and politician who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, he was the first African American to be elected to the presidency. He previously served as a U.S. senator from Illinois from 2005 to 2008 and an Illinois state senator from 1997 to 2004.


After Obama's election, Axelrod was appointed as Senior Advisor to the President. [1] Axelrod left the White House position in early 2011 and became the Senior Strategist for Obama's successful re-election campaign in 2012. [2] [3]

Senior Advisor to the President of the United States

Senior Advisor to the President is a title used by high-ranking assistants to the president of the United States. White House senior advisors are senior members of the White House Office. The title has been used formally since 1993.

Axelrod is a former political writer for the Chicago Tribune , and joined CNN as Senior Political Commentator in 2015. [4] As of April 2019, Axelrod serves as the director of the non-partisan University of Chicago Institute of Politics. [5] His memoir is titled Believer: My Forty Years in Politics. [4] [6]

<i>Chicago Tribune</i> Major daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The Chicago Tribune is a daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois, United States, owned by Tribune Publishing. Founded in 1847, and formerly self-styled as the "World's Greatest Newspaper", it remains the most-read daily newspaper of the Chicago metropolitan area and the Great Lakes region. It had the 6th highest circulation for American newspapers in 2017.

CNN American news channel

CNN is an American news-based pay television channel owned by AT&T's WarnerMedia. CNN was founded in 1980 by American media proprietor Ted Turner as a 24-hour cable news channel. Upon its launch, CNN was the first television channel to provide 24-hour news coverage, and was the first all-news television channel in the United States.

The Institute of Politics is an extracurricular, nonpartisan institute at the University of Chicago designed to inspire students to pursue careers in politics and public service. The Institute accomplishes its goals through four major avenues: A civic engagement program, where students take part in community service projects and gain leadership skills, a fellows program that hosts a group of political and policy professionals to lead seminars for an academic quarter, a speaker series featuring public events with a diverse array of political figures, and a career development program featuring hundreds of internships in government, politics and policy. It was formally established in 2013 with David Axelrod, who was President Barack Obama's chief campaign advisor, as its director.

Early life

Axelrod was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City, and grew up in its Stuyvesant Town area. He was raised in a liberal Jewish family. [7] [8] [9] [10] His mother, Myril Bennett (née Davidson), was a journalist at PM, a liberal-leaning 1940s newspaper, and later an advertising executive at Young & Rubicam. [11] His father, Joseph Axelrod, was a psychologist and avid baseball fan, who migrated from Eastern Europe to the United States at the age of eleven. [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] He attended Public School 40 in Manhattan. Axelrod's parents separated when he was eight years old. 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. So I find myself getting very emotional about it." [17] At thirteen years old, he was selling campaign buttons for Robert F. Kennedy. After graduating from New York's Stuyvesant High School [13] in 1972, Axelrod attended the University of Chicago, where he majored in political science. [18]

Lower East Side Neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City

The Lower East Side, sometimes abbreviated as LES, is a neighborhood in the southeastern part of the New York City borough of Manhattan, roughly located between the Bowery and the East River, and Canal Street and Houston Street. Traditionally an immigrant, working class neighborhood, it began rapid gentrification in the mid-2000s, prompting the National Trust for Historic Preservation to place the neighborhood on their list of America's Most Endangered Places.

Manhattan Borough in New York City and county in New York, United States

Manhattan, , is the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City, coextensive with New York County, one of the original counties of the U.S. state of New York. Manhattan serves as the city's economic and administrative center, cultural identifier, and historical birthplace. The borough consists mostly of Manhattan Island, bounded by the Hudson, East, and Harlem rivers; several small adjacent islands; and Marble Hill, a small neighborhood now on the U.S. mainland, physically connected to the Bronx and separated from the rest of Manhattan by the Harlem River. Manhattan Island is divided into three informally bounded components, each aligned with the borough's long axis: Lower, Midtown, and Upper Manhattan.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

As an undergraduate, Axelrod wrote for the Hyde Park Herald , covering politics, and earned an internship at the Chicago Tribune . He lost his father to suicide in 1977, around the time of his graduation. [19] While at the University of Chicago he met his future wife, business student Susan Landau (daughter of research doctor Richard L. Landau), [20] and they married in 1979. In June 1981, their first child, a daughter, was diagnosed with epilepsy at seven months of age. [21]

The Hyde Park Herald is a weekly newspaper that serves the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois.

Richard L. Landau was a leader in endocrinology research at the University of Chicago. He published more than 90 papers and served as a member of the editorial board at the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Epilepsy human neurological disease causing seizures

Epilepsy is a group of neurological disorders characterized by recurrent epileptic seizures. Epileptic seizures are episodes that can vary from brief and nearly undetectable periods to long periods of vigorous shaking. These episodes can result in physical injuries, including occasionally broken bones. In epilepsy, seizures have a tendency to recur and, as a rule, have no immediate underlying cause. Isolated seizures that are provoked by a specific cause such as poisoning are not deemed to represent epilepsy. People with epilepsy may be treated differently in various areas of the world and experience varying degrees of social stigma due to their condition.


Prior to first Obama campaign

The Chicago Tribune hired Axelrod after his graduation from college. He worked there for eight years, covering national, state and local politics, becoming their youngest political writer in 1981. At 27, he became the City Hall Bureau Chief and a political columnist for the paper. [22] He left the Tribune and joined the campaign of U.S. Senator Paul Simon as communications director in 1984. Within weeks he was promoted to co-campaign manager. [23]

Paul Simon (politician) United States Senator and lieutenant governor from Illinois

Paul Martin Simon was an American author and politician from Illinois. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1975 to 1985, and in the United States Senate from 1985 to 1997. A member of the Democratic Party, he unsuccessfully ran for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.

In 1985, Axelrod formed the political consultancy firm, Axelrod & Associates. In 1987 he worked on the successful reelection campaign of Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, while spearheading Simon's campaign for the 1988 Democratic Presidential nomination. This established his experience in working with black politicians; he later became a key player in similar mayoral campaigns of black candidates, 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. [19] Axelrod is a longtime strategist for the former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley [24] and styles himself a "specialist in urban politics." The Economist notes he also specializes in "packaging black candidates for white voters". [24]

In January 1990, Axelrod was hired to be the media consultant for the all but official re-election campaign of Oregon Governor Neil Goldschmidt. [25] However, Goldschmidt announced in February that he would not seek re-election. [26] Axelrod was retained by the Liberal Party of Ontario to help Dalton McGuinty and his party in 2002 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. [27]

In 2004, Axelrod worked for John Edwards' presidential 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." [28] [29]

Axelrod contributed an op-ed to the Chicago Tribune in defense of patronage after two top officials in the administration of longtime client Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley were arrested for what federal prosecutors described as "pervasive fraud" in City Hall hiring and promotions. [30] [31] In 2006, he consulted for several campaigns, including the successful campaigns of Eliot Spitzer in New York's gubernatorial election and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts's gubernatorial election. Axelrod 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.

He was an Adjunct Professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University, where, along with Professor Peter Miller, he taught an undergraduate class titled Campaign Strategy, analyzing political campaigns, and their strategies. [32] On June 14, 2009 he 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. [33]

Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2008

Axelrod first met Obama in 1992, when Bettylu Saltzman, a Chicago democrat, introduced the two of them after Obama had impressed her at a black voter registration drive that he ran. Obama consulted Axelrod before he delivered a 2002 anti-war speech, [34] and asked him to read drafts of his book The Audacity of Hope . [35]

Axelrod contemplated taking a break from politics during the 2008 presidential campaign, as five of the candidates—Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Chris Dodd and Tom Vilsack—were past clients. Personal ties between Axelrod and Hillary Clinton made it difficult, as she had raised significant funds for epilepsy on behalf of 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." [36] Axelrod ultimately decided to participate in the Obama campaign, and served as chief strategist and media advisor for Obama. He 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." [13]

Axelrod contributed to the initial announcement of Obama's campaign by creating a five-minute Internet video released January 16, 2007. [37] [38] 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 David Axelrod at Cleveland Democratic debate.jpg
Axelrod talking to reporters in the "spin room" after the Cleveland Democratic debate in February 2008

While the Clinton campaign chose a 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." [39] 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." [40] 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." [40] 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 " [41] 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 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. [42] 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.

Politico described Axelrod as 'soft-spoken' and 'mild-mannered' [43] and it quoted one Obama aide in Chicago as saying, "Do you know how lucky we are that he is our Mark Penn?" [44] Democratic consultant and former colleague Dan Fee said of Axelrod, "He's a calming presence." [45] "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." [46] In June 2008, The New York Times described Axelrod as a "campaign guru" with an "appreciation for Chicago-style politics." [47]

Senior Advisor to the President, 2009–11

Axelrod with President Barack Obama Obama edits speech announcing KORUS FTA.jpg
Axelrod with President Barack Obama

On November 20, 2008, Obama named Axelrod as a senior advisor to his administration. His role included crafting policy and communicating the President's message in coordination with President Obama, the Obama Administration, speechwriters, and the White House communications team. [48] [49]

The Foreclosure Scandal

When details of the 2010 United States foreclosure crisis were publicized in 2010, notably robo-signing, Axelrod was widely criticized for downplaying the magnitude of the crisis in his comments to the press, [50] [51] telling the audience of CBS News' Face the Nation that the Obama administration's "hope is this moves rapidly and that this gets unwound very, very quickly" and that he's "not sure that a national moratorium" is called for since "there are in fact valid foreclosures that probably should go forward." [52] Notably, Axelrod made this statement after several banks had voluntarily suspended foreclosures and evictions in order to investigate improprieties. [53]

Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2012

Axelrod left his White House senior advisor post on January 28, 2011. He was a top aide to Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. [2] [3] Axelrod also stated that his job as Obama's chief campaign strategist in the 2012 campaign would be his final job as a political operative. [54]

After second Obama campaign

Axelrod in Chicago in 2016 University of Chicago Institute of Politics Director Axelrod Introduces Secretary Kerry and Aspen Institute President Isaacson to Discuss Global Affairs and Engage With Students (29953127524).jpg
Axelrod in Chicago in 2016

In January 2013, Axelrod established a bipartisan Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, where he serves as director. [55] On January 23, 2013, La Stampa reported that Axelrod was helping Italian prime minister Mario Monti with his election campaign and had flown to Italy to meet with Monti ten days earlier. [56] Monti's coalition went on to come fourth with 10.5% of the vote in the Italian general election, 2013. On February 19, 2013, Axelrod joined NBC News and MSNBC as a senior political analyst, [57] a position he held until September 2015 when he moved to CNN.

In 2014 Axelrod was appointed senior strategic adviser to the British Labour Party to assist party leader Ed Miliband in the run-up to the 2015 general election. [58]

He is the co-founder of AKPD Message and Media, along with Eric Sedler, and operated ASK Public Strategies, now called ASGK Public Strategies, which were sold in 2009. In Feb. 2015 Axelrod's book Believer: My Forty Years in Politics was published. [59] [ failed verification ]

In 2015, Axelrod began hosting a podcast titled The Axe Files, a series of in-depth discussions and interviews with various political figures. [60] He also joined CNN as a senior political commentator in September, 2015. [61]

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  50. The Foreclosure Fraud Scandal Just Got Harder to Ignore: by Kevin Connor. JANUARY 7, 2011 f Public Accountability Initiative (Eyes on the Ties). https://news.littlesis.org/2011/01/07/the-foreclosure-fraud-scandal-just-got-harder-to-ignore/
  51. Moe Tkachik. 5 Things David Axelrod Must Have Missed About The Foreclosure Thing. Washington City Paper. OCT 11, 2010. https://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/blog/13135897/5-things-david-axelrod-must-have-missed-about-the-foreclosure-thing
  52. Tom Cohen, CNN. Axelrod signals White House opposition to foreclosure moratorium. October 10, 2010 http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/10/10/white.house.foreclosures/index.html
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  61. "Former Obama adviser Axelrod joining CNN as senior political commentator". CNN. Retrieved September 3, 2015.Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
Political offices
Preceded by
Barry Jackson
Senior Advisor to the President
Served alongside: Valerie Jarrett, Pete Rouse
Succeeded by
David Plouffe