Huffpost Politics

Obama's Brain Trust Speaks

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CBS News spoke to President-elect Barack Obama's top advisers Anita Dunn, David Plouffe, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs in Chicago -- just hours after his historic win.

On Obama's role in the campaign:

"Well, no one had a bigger role, you know. The great thing about our campaign was we didn't have a lotta discussion about what our message was or what he wanted to do," Plouffe said. "From the beginning, he knew exactly what he wanted to say. And it's one of the reasons we were successful. A lotta campaigns will spend hours every day wondering about how to change their message. And he was pretty clear about what he wanted to say, where he wanted to take the country, and either people would accept it or they wouldn't."

On his chances:

Asked if they seriously thought Obama had a shot, Plouffe told Kroft, "We thought he had a shot. I actually think we knew what big underdogs we were. And he got into this in a very unusual way. Most people plan this from years. They spend a lotta time in Iowa and New Hampshire planning for it. We got into this very unconventionally."

...

"My fundamental concern for him wasn't whether he had the capacity, 'cause I think he's the smartest guy that I've ever worked with or known," Axelrod said.

"But it was whether he had that pathological drive to be president. You know, so often, what defines presidential candidates is this need to be president, to define themselves. He didn't have that. And, you know, we told him, 'You're gonna have to find some other way to motivate yourself.' And he did, which was what he could do as president."

On race:

"No, honestly you had to take a leap of faith in the beginning that the people we get by race. And I think the number of meetings we had about race was zero," Plouffe told Kroft.

"Zero. We had to believe in the beginning that he would be a strong enough candidate that people of every background and race would be for him."

"The only time we got involved in a discussion of race was when people asked us about it. It was a fascination of the news media," Axelrod added.

On Jeremiah Wright:

Axelrod said the Jeremiah Wright affair was probably a pivotal moment in the whole campaign. "You know, pandemonium erupted in the political community. And there was this sense that we were in crisis."

The video taped rantings of Obama's former pastor brought the issue that the Obama campaign had long sought to avoid center stage, and took them all by surprise.

"And I think we'd all acknowledged that we should've been aware of some of these tapes were available. We didn't review all of the tapes of Jeremiah Wright as we should have," Axelrod said. "And as a result we were kind of caught flat-footed on some of these tapes. But you know we should have recognized that once that happened, that race is such a fascination of the political community that it would take off as it did. And it did."

"That was a terrible weekend," Dunn remembered. "The excerpts were endlessly looped on television."

"Yeah, and the only one who was calm was Obama," Axelrod added. The candidate called his aides and told them he wanted them to clear some time on his schedule.

"And he said, 'You know what? I'm gonna make a speech about race and talk about Jeremiah Wright and the perspective of the larger issue.' And he said, 'And either people will accept it or I won't be president of the United States. But at least I'll have said what I think needs to be said,'" Axelrod remembered.

Gibbs said there wasn't a discussion.

"If there had been a discussion, we've often joked, probably most of the people in the campaign would've advised against it," Dunn added.

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