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PODCAST: David Plouffe on the early days of the Obama campaign

Someday soon, political strategists will look back on the 2008 presidential campaign the way NASA scientists sigh at the Apollo moon landing -- as an example of a way that fighting a big, idealistic fight demanded a period of intense and disruptive innovation. At least, that's the way DAVID PLOUFFE sees it. In order to win, he told an audience at the First Church in Cambridge, the Obama campaign didn't just have to rewrite the rules of campaigning -- it had to fundamentally alter the electorate itself. It's no coincidence that Plouffe's new book The Audacity To Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory reads as if he were describing the birth of a tech startup: his narrative is full of moments where counterintuitive risk-taking trumps a well-worn rulebook, a narrative that won't hurt his corporate speaking fees. (The book is also filled with examples of politics-as-usual: like the one about the time Plouffe leaked John Edwards's $400 haircut to Politico.)

Previously on the Podcast: In December 2008, David Plouffe joined David Axelrod and principals from the McCain organization, at Harvard, to tell war stories from the campaign

By the end of the book -- and, as Plouffe quipped in Cambridge, we all know how it ends -- the little startup has reimagined politics, re-engineering the way (and the speed with which) campaigns collect, crunch, analyze, and exploit vast quantities of extremely rich data. This can be . . . well, a little creepy, frankly, even to an audience that is happy (we think?) to have him on our side. The massive numbers-crunching effort that Plouffe helped engineer for the Obama campaign finally gave the Democrats an answer to Karl Rove's direct-mail ginsu-ing of the electorate. But that doesn't make it any less disconcerting when Plouffe describes the pinpoint accuracy -- the Google-like certainty -- with which the campaign could, for instance, determine that a key demographic of over-30 suburban independent moms all shopped at the same mall chain. And then scramble kiosks to meet them there. 

Backlash, perhaps, was inevitable. After an invigorating sermon on the most challenging aspects of the little-startup-campaign-that-could, Plouffe was grilled by a loyal opposition who wanted to know why the guy they voted for is a no-show on progressive causes like gay marriage -- and why, on his recent Asia junket, Obama wasn't harsher on civil rights abuses in China. If you're looking for a sneak peak at what the Democratic talking points will be in 2010 and 2012, Plouffe's answers to those questions will be instructive. To listen to the full reading and discussion, click on the link below, or right-click/save-as to grab the file for your iPod. 

DOWNLOAD: David Plouffe discusses "The Audacity To Win" at First Church, Cambridge [mp3]

Recorded November 18, 2009 at a Harvard Book Store reading at First Parish Church in Cambridge, MA. To subscribe to the podcast, use this RSS feed or bookmark http://thephoenix.com/podcast.

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