One year in, the Obama campaign unleashes itself on America. Confident, cool, digitally dynamic. But are they getting cocky?
Amy Sly for BuzzFeed
CHICAGO, Ill. — On the evening of April 4, campaign manager Jim Messina gathered more than 300 staffers into a large room on the sixth floor of One Prudential Plaza in Chicago, the nerve center for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. The occasion: the one-year anniversary of opening the headquarters in the president’s hometown. Messina grabbed a microphone that was set up for him to address his army of twenty-somethings, who were seated at his feet on the floor, spilling on to the filing cabinets, stretching far out into the vast floor they occupy in the office tower. The staffers knew it was a night to party — the plan was to head to a nearby bar for drinks to celebrate — but first they had to listen to a speech from the boss.
Messina didn’t want to bullshit them: he warned of the ups and downs in the upcoming months, the good and the bad. He showed them a graph of Republican primary contenders who had once led in the daily polls — Gingrich, Herman Cain, Santorum, Perry, a roster of fallen clowns. Don’t read the daily polls, he warned. “The only poll you care about is November 6th,” Messina said. “None of that stuff matters, the day-to-day stuff doesn't matter.”
Messina ended the talk with a presentation of “Fired Up, Ready to Go,” a web video that takes viewers from the story of one supporter to the final rally of Obama’s campaign in 2008. The video hit at the inspirational core of the president’s historic victory four years ago, and a few of the staffers were moved to tears. For Team Obama, watching Fired Up offered a nostalgic release, carrying them away from the corporate feel of their Chicago office tower and to the movement that captured their imaginations in 2008. It reminded them of why they were grinding away now.
“There is a very, very good feeling here,” David Axelrod, Obama’s senior advisor, told BuzzFeed.
On the way out of the building that night, Messina passed a white board at the sixth floor reception desk with a number in blue ink: 216, the number of days left until the election.
For a year, Messina and his growing staff had what struck him, in comparison to the long frantic 2008 primary against Hillary Clinton, a strangely linear job: “We had to just build something.” He spent months in Chicago engineering the most technologically savvy and expensive political operation in American history in a laboratory-like setting, geographically distant and hermetically sealed from the politics of Washington. The isolation sometimes gives way to unreality. When the debt ceiling crisis gripped the Beltway last summer, Messina recalled, a young staffer innocently asked him: “Is there something going on in Washington?”
And now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee, the Obama team has flipped the ON switch for its reelection machine.