You've heard about the questionable "plan" Bill and Hillary Clinton hatched to make them the first husband and wife presidents, revealed in the new book Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Clinton. Well, now we are finding out that her popular presidential campaign rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, had one too. But unlike the tale told by Clinton's New York Times biographers, whose plan claim has been disputed, Chicago Tribune Obama biographer David Mendell charts Obama's in detail from the initial days of the senator's arrival in Washington in 2005.
"The first order of business for Obama's team was charting a course for his first two years in the Senate. The game plan was to send Obama into the 2007-2008 election cycle in the strongest form possible," writes Mendell in his forthcoming bio Obama: From Promise to Power. A review copy of the richly detailed and largely positive book was sent to me yesterday. "The Plan, as his team called it, was formalized on a computer file and was consistently updated as events occurred. It was primarily molded by [top adviser David] Axelrod, [communications chief Robert] Gibbs, [Senate office boss Pete] Rouse and Obama. The plan was broken into four quarters per year, with the first quarter being dedicated to hiring Senate staff, learning the names of faces of Washington, writing his book, launching his own political action committee to raise money and turning down the volume on his publicity machine," writes Mendell.
The first job in the Plan: Attend to Illinois duties. Next up, avoid controversy and tone down his liberal image. And overall: Keep the press at bay, allowing the senator to control his message while being portrayed as a rising star in the Democratic Party.
One of the final elements was a media-crazed congressional delegation trip to Africa, where Obama would trace some of his fascinating roots. "The hope among Obama's team: To raise the senator's profile nationally and internationally; to solidify his support among a key constituency, African Americans; and to bulk up his foreign policy credentials."
Communications bigwig Gibbs, over eggs Benedict in early 2005, had already thought about the mid-2006 trip, especially to Kenya, where Obama's father was born. "Kenya will be just crazy—the media, the people, everything will be insane," Mendell says Gibbs rightly predicted.
The final act of the plan was turning up the talk about a potential presidential bid, which was greatly aided by his positive press and suggestions by pundits that he run for president. "Up to now, 'The Plan' had been working to near perfection," writes Mendell, and the rest is pretty much history.
Mendell opens and ends the book with an insightful quote from Obama, whose love of basketball is well known. The opening scene is the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, which he would wow with a trademark hopeful speech. As he walked around the FleetCenter, he told Mendell, "I'm LeBron, baby," a reference to young NBA sensation LeBron James. "I can play on this level. I got some game." Fast-forward to Obama's February announcement at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. As supporters cheered "O-ba-ma!," Mendell recalls thinking: "I couldn't help but say to myself, 'here comes LeBron, indeed.'"