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David Axelrod On 2012 Campaign: Trajectory Of Race Is Set

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DAVID AXELROD GAME CHANGER
AP

WASHINGTON -- The Obama campaign sees no major event that can now alter the trajectory of the election, the president's top adviser told The Huffington Post in an interview Thursday. And with President Barack Obama holding slim but discernable leads in several critical battleground states, there is a continued sense of confidence that a second term is in the offing.

"In my view we have got the lead and the ball and now it is a matter of executing the final 10 days of the campaign," David Axelrod said in a telephone interview.

"Governor Romney profited from that first debate primarily by recouping those voters who he had lost in his dismal month of September when they had such an uninspired convention and when the 47 percent tape came out," Axelrod continued. "But that is all that happened. We've had two debates since. I haven't seen -- in the things that I have looked at -- I haven't seen momentum since that time. I think the race has settled in, and it has settled in with us with a small but durable and discernable lead in these battleground states both in the aggregate and individually. The question is how does he change that dynamic now? There is no big intervening event."

"I'm doubtful as to whether [even the October jobs numbers] will be a defining event," he added.

The aura of cautious optimism is one that both campaigns are hoping to project, with each able to muster a slate of statistics to make its case. On Friday, for example, an ABC/Washington Post tracking poll showed movement towards Obama, with the contest settling in at 49 to 48 percent in favor of Romney. But that narrative turned just an hour later, when the Gallup tracking poll showed Romney expanding his lead to a five-point margin among likely voters, at 51 to 46 percent.

Axelrod and others in the Obama campaign see all this as largely irrelevant noise. For them, the electoral landscape has always been defined by certain states. And the campaign's entire operation -- a massive, expensive Get Out The Vote enterprise -- has been constructed to work within these confines.

Prior experience is the Obama campaign's not-so-secret weapon. In 2008, it had to put a ground game together in a matter of months. The campaign has been building for this election over the course of five years. And while the Romney campaign has made major progress from where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) left off in 2008, there is a benefit to having this be your second rodeo.

"Nothing that they are doing makes me particularly nervous other than the pure force of it in terms of money," Axelrod said. "I am cognizant of the fact that there is more money being spent against us in the last 10 days of this race –- or there will be -– than has ever been spent against a candidate before ... it has diminishing returns, but it is something to monitor."

Of course, the Obama campaign isn't exactly struggling for cash. Each side has tens of millions of dollars to spend in the closing weeks. And while the world of Romney-backing super PACs seems poised to spend tens of millions of dollars more, the president's allies will be able to match a good chunk of that.

And so the election comes down, in Axelrod's eyes, to execution and messaging. But if virtually the entire political universe concedes the Obama campaign's adroitness on the former, there have been critics with respect to the latter. In particular, the Romney campaign has insisted that the president has no overarching or inspiring agenda for the next four years.

Axelrod, naturally, denied that, albeit while implicitly conceding that many of the items the president is pushing are extensions of what he did in the first term.

"What I would say is that, no one said that we were going to restore the American educational system to prominence in the world in four years or even eight," he said. "But that has to be the goal and we have to do things to get there. No one said that we were going to win the competition for the clean energy jobs of the future and help us completely finish the job in terms of developing our new sources of energy. But we have certainly have made huge progress.

"I think it is small thinking to say, 'well, four years have passed and he hasn't fundamentally transformed the education system so lets go back to trickle down. We haven't completely won the competition for the new energy jobs of the future so lets go back to more of an oil-only energy policy.' That is the wrong thinking."

On the other critical messaging front -- how to attack the opposition down the stretch -- Axelrod argued that there was no inconsistency with attacking Romney for his shifting positions and casting him as the severely conservative politician that he once claimed to be.

"I don’t think he is coreless," he said. "The issue is not that he doesn't believe what he is saying. It is that he doesn't want to say it in the last two weeks of the campaign. As the president said in one of the debates: My concern is not that he won't keep his promises. My concern is that he will."

UPDATE: 7:00 p.m. -- Romney campaign spokesperson Amanda Henneberg emailed over the following response to Axelrod's interview.

With 11 days left, the flailing Obama campaign continues to be on defense on everything from their ground game operation to their messaging. And with no record to run on and no rationale for re-election the Obama campaign’s closing argument has been to focus on the small things, while 23 million Americans continue to struggle for work. This election is a choice between the status quo and real change – change that offers promise that the future will be better than the past. President Obama’s misguided policies and broken promises have let down millions of Americans, and we can’t afford another four years like the last four. The Romney-Ryan Plan for a Stronger Middle Class will create 12 million jobs, result in higher take-home pay, and put America back on the path of prosperity and opportunity. And we are confident that on Election Day, voters will line up behind Gov. Romney’s positive vision for our country.

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