The Obama Campaign: What They’ll Remember

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In the final few days of the Obama campaign, I tried something I’ve always wanted to do. I went around to people who had seen things from the inside, stuck my tape recorder in their faces, and asked them to recount for me some of the moments they remember most–the kind of war stories they might be telling in a bar a year from now.

We put a few of those recollections in the magazine. Here’s the link. Or you can read them after the jump:

The Time of Their Life

There’s a rhythm to all this that you have to get used to. Most people in the country had heard him speak once, and it was at the 2004 Democratic Convention. So when he went to a meet and greet with voters, people expected to hear the convention speech. That took a little getting used to. During the primary season, at one of the labor cattle calls in D.C., he was the last [of nine candidates] to speak. There are about eight things that you’re going to say to this group, and they’ve all now been said. I remember he was down after that because he just couldn’t understand why it had gone so poorly. So we’re flying to Iowa, and Reggie [Love, his personal assistant] and he are sitting next to each other, and I’m saying, “Senator, you just have to figure out how to enjoy this, you have to figure out how to have a little fun. Are you having any fun right now?” And he said, “I’m not having any fun at all.” And Reggie, without blinking an eye, pipes up and says, “Man, I’m having the time of my life!”

Robert Gibbs, Obama campaign senior communications strategist

A Simple Gift

After the Feb. 21 debate in Austin, Texas, we were leaving in the morning. Barack had the flu. There was an elderly black gentleman who had been our elevator operator for three days. As we got to the ground floor, he said, “Senator Obama, I have something I want to give you,” and he handed him his military patch. He said, “I’ve carried this military patch with me every day for 40 years, and I want you to carry it, and it will keep you safe in your journey.” It was just such an unbelievable act of generosity. So later we asked Barack what he had done with it. And he pulled it out of his pocket and said, “This is why I do this. Because people have their hopes and dreams about what we can do together.”

Valerie Jarrett, senior Obama adviser

Bracing on the Campaign Plane

Marvin [Nicholson], the trip director, came out to Senator Obama and whispered in his ear. Senator Obama said, “What’s wrong with the plane?” Marvin said there was something wrong with the hydraulic system. He told us that we would be landing in a city other than our destination and that we might want to assume the brace position. [Obama] said, “What’s that?” Marvin explained, and Obama’s reaction was one word: “Golly.” After we landed safely, the first thing he did was call his wife, who had been watching it on cable.

Linda Douglass, Obama spokeswoman

In Kuwait: Nothing but Net

We’d been there two years before, on his previous Iraq trip–same gym, same base. We walked in, not sure what to expect, and the gym was packed. He sort of teed up the basketball, and it was in the air, and I thought there’s no way this is going in. And the next thing you know–swish!–and the whole place just went crazy. He came over to me and just sort of smiled, and he said, “I knew I was going to make it.”

Mark Lippert, Obama’s top foreign-affairs staffer in the Senate, on the 3-pointer Obama made on his July trip overseas

Learning from Losing

Obviously, we thought we were going to win [New Hampshire]. We should have listened to what we were feeling instead of what we were told. We had to go up and tell him in the hotel that in fact we were going to lose. And he asked some questions about why we thought that was going to be. He leaned up against a wall and smiled kind of wanly and said, “This thing is going to go on for a while, isn’t it?” And we said, “Yeah, it’s going to go on for a while.”

David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, on losing the New Hampshire primary to Hillary

UPDATE: Okay, by popular demand (or, at least, by commenter Sgwhite’s), here are a few moments that didn’t make the dead-tree cut:

The Morning After New Hampshire

It was supposed to be a triumphant fundraiser. We drove down [to Boston]. He had about three hours of sleep and Deval Patrick introduced him. Then Barack stood up. He had no notes. He had no speech. He said, “Many of you expected us to win yesterday. We took a hit.” He said, “I know this sounds like spin, but I think this was meant to be. We were a little like Icarus flying too close to the sun. Change never happens that easily. Change doesn’t happen without a fight. People want to see this go on. They want to hear this debate. And let me tell you what the struggle is worth, why we have to keep fighting harder.”

He gave this really inspiring speech . By the end, people were in tears, they were standing, they were clapping. This happened throughout the campaign. Where we had setbacks, he invariably was the one who kind of picked us up and pointed us in the right direction. It was one measure by which you could see the presidential qualities.

David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist

The Turning Point

So [Obama] had just finished calling Senator McCain saying, basically, I think this is important, why don’t we [issue a joint statement spelling out their principles for the financial bailout]? And then, probably like less than five minutes later, it pops up on the BlackBerry, and I’m reading it out loud [that McCain is going to suspend his campaign]. Honestly, [Obama’s] reaction was mildly amused.
You instantly knew that it was a high, high-risk proposition, especially for somebody who at that point hadn’t altogether been real forward in talking about solutions for the economy. As events unfolded … nobody could figure out what their strategy was. … Those two or three weeks around Lehman’s collapse, AIG’s collapse, the politics of the bailout. When we look back, those were the three most momentous weeks in the entire campaign over an entire two-year period. That may boil down to choosing the next President of the United States.

Robert Gibbs, Obama campaign senior communications strategist

And Yet, Only Six Years Ago

Obama’s state senate district had been redistricted, and my building in downtown Chicago was now part of his district. I thought, well, it would be good to give him a chance to meet my neighbors and his constituents. So we had a little reception for him and we got this third-floor reception room in the building. The building has 800 units, and 25 people showed up. My wife frantically ran the hallway, dragging people who were coming out of the swimming pool. She was begging them to come in and say hello to this guy. It was a humbling experience.

David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist