Obama's Midterm Campaign: A Long Gestation

  • Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

    For the ladies of The View, President Obama played it coy. "We shouldn't be campaigning all the time," he said in his first daytime-talk-show interview as President, just before hosting two private Manhattan fundraisers. "What we have tried to do over the last 20 months is to govern."

    Sure, he has tried to govern. But the West Wing campaign to preserve Democratic control of the Congress in the 2010 elections has also been running full throttle for more than a year. Back when the economy was in free fall, deputy chief of staff Jim Messina and political director Patrick Gaspard began holding regular huddles with political aides to prepare the midterm map. Secret Service records show that starting in February, Obama's New York – based pollster Joel Benenson began making near weekly trips through the White House gates. And then there are the Wednesday-night meetings in senior political adviser David Axelrod 's Logan Circle living room, where, over pizza or Thai takeout, aides debate ways to re-energize those who voted for the first time in 2008 and put Republicans on the defensive. "It's basically smart political people who everyone here trusts," says one insider, a group that can still include departed communications director Anita Dunn, all-purpose wise man David Plouffe and the 2008 campaign's paid media guru, Larry Grisolano. If Benenson can't make it, they pass around a BlackBerry with his disembodied voice.

    The mark of these political chess masters can be seen in many of Obama's moves, from the selling of financial reform to the late push to change campaign-finance laws. For the coming weeks, Obama has planned a dizzying series of fundraisers and candidate appearances, with a steadily increasing combative tone. If the polls are right and Democrats lose big in November, one thing is certain: it won't be for lack of White House effort.