Axelrod, Senate Democrats Discuss Campaign Coordination

Posted June 17, 2008 at 3:17pm

Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) presidential campaign officially kicked off its Capitol Hill outreach on Tuesday when chief strategist David Axelrod met privately with Senate Democrats to discuss a coordinated party strategy and message for the months leading into the November election.

Axelrod addressed the Senators for about 15 minutes during the weekly closed-door session. And just before giving face time to the rank-and-file Democrats, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hosted Obama’s top campaign aide in a separate private meeting in his office. Senators offered little detail about what Axelrod told them, but they unanimously described it as a “positive session” that focused on healing the divide with one-time rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and implementing a plan for Obama to campaign in regions previously untouched by Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Reid, who invited Axelrod to the Senate, said afterward he wanted Senate Democrats to see firsthand who is behind the Obama organization as they look ahead to the next four and a half months of the campaign. Reid said that too often Democratic lawmakers are removed from the strategists who drive decisions and strategy, and those officials are “always under the radar.”

“I felt it was very important he come so people know who he is,” Reid said.

Reid said Axelrod made a “positive statement” about the campaign, and about Clinton, who abandoned her bid just over a week ago and has yet to return to the Senate. Reid added that he believes — despite chatter to the contrary — that Clinton’s supporters will join up with Obama’s campaign and present a unified front against presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Asked whether he expects Obama to give Senate Democrats a similar pep talk in the coming weeks, Reid said: “He need not do that. We understand he’s where he needs to be and doing what he needs to do.”

Plus, Reid said, Obama doesn’t need to give face time to the Democratic Conference, which he described as wholly unified behind his candidacy, “except for one.” Reid was referring to Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who has endorsed and is actively campaigning for McCain.

Not surprisingly, Lieberman did not attend Tuesday’s luncheon.

Following his meeting with the caucus, Axelrod briefly huddled in a hallway with Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.). He declined to discuss specifics of his larger meeting but said more discussions would occur and that Obama hopes to use the chamber’s Democrats as a brain trust.

“We want to work closely with them,” he said. “Each person in there has an [abundance] of information about their states. We don’t consider ourselves a repository of wisdom.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said it is clear the Obama campaign wants Senators’ input going forward, and has made clear its road map includes “spending time in states that many dream a Democratic presidential candidate can campaign in.”

“Without giving any details of what was said in the room, Senate Democrats feel he is being very aggressive about trying to get ideas that Senate Democrats have, they are reaching out in a very active way and making clear the Obama campaign is going to the nooks and crannies where Democratic presidential candidates haven’t been before,” Wyden said.

Durbin, who is Obama’s closest ally in the Senate, said Axelrod solicited questions and advice from the Senators, saying about half a dozen queried the campaign strategist on Tuesday. Durbin described the exchange overall as focused on “how he’s going to coordinate the message and how Senate Democrats can help Obama campaign in a coordinated way.”

John Stanton contributed to this report.