12/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Friends Of Barack: Obama's Real Inner Circle

At a tense point in Barack Obama's campaign, his closest friends got together and decided that, whatever it took, they would make him laugh.

It was early May, and Obama was trying to stave off a comeback by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Chatting privately with the candidate before a late-night stop in Indiana, Marty Nesbitt, Valerie Jarrett and Eric Whitaker started riffing about how utterly draining the campaign had been. They began laughing and couldn't stop -- until strategist David Axelrod walked up with a set of distressing poll numbers.

"We were telling stories and teasing him and trying to lighten the mood," Jarrett recalled. "Then Axelrod came in and threw cold water on it. It was like, man, all that hard work!"

At the upper reaches of the Democratic Party, "FOB" used to mean "Friend of Bill," as in Clinton. With Obama's victory on Tuesday, "FOB" is the new acronym for the close-knit corps of Chicago neighbors, graduate school classmates, pickup basketball teammates and family friends of the incoming president.

A few Friends of Barack are likely to follow him to the White House, Jarrett being the most probable candidate. Others expect to stay close to Obama through the thicket of personal and business ties that have evolved over decades.

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