Tom Daschle is no ordinary appointment. Not just because of his experience, or relationships, or prestige. The connection between Daschle and Obama is deep, and Daschle's influence in Obama's campaign is more significant than most realize. That's because Obama, to a point, was actually running Daschle's campaign.
The sophistication and brutal efficiency of the Obama team is, in some ways, a historical accident. In general, politicians who have served at the national level for a mere two years cannot amass the top-level staff talent to run a serious campaign. And that should have been all the truer in a year when a candidate with the last name "Clinton" was running as the prohibitive favorite. If you can't get the Clinton folks on your team, then there are fairly few pools of political operatives with the seasoning to run at the national level.
But Obama entered office at a unique moment. Tom Daschle, then the Senate minority leader, had just lost his seat in an upset to John Thune. Dick Gephardt, the House minority leader, had retired after losing in the presidential primary. And the Democrats had been wiped out in the 2004 elections. Obama enters office at the very moment that the staffs of both legislative leaders lose their jobs. Which is how he ends up hiring Pete Rouse.