By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
In an unusual alliance fostered by their alma mater, the top aides to 2008 presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama are joining forces to build a new political center at the University of Delaware. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe and McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt are working to develop the university's first Center for Political Communication, a coup for the Blue Hens, who also count Vice President Joe Biden among their alumni.
Their teaming comes as Schmidt and Plouffe are trying to finish their degrees: Both attended UD, but neither graduated. Schmidt says he is finishing up three hours at the university, and Plouffe is working toward a full degree, too. Plouffe has deep Delaware roots, having grown up in Wilmington. More recently, he bought a Ford hybrid from his brother at a dealership in Wilmington.
The two have been instrumental in the development of the Center for Political Communication, which will combine several academic disciplines—political science, communication, visual communication, marketing, sociology, business, and perhaps others. Plouffe and Schmidt are helping to develop courses and areas of instruction at the campus in Newark, Del. "We've adopted the moniker of 'epicenter of politics' as a kind of banner under which to develop the initiative and conduct the programs," says Ralph J. Begleiter, the university's Rosenberg Professor of Communication. "Among other things," he tells our Suzi Parker, "we're working on new courses—and combinations of courses—around significant developments in digital communication technologies used in the 2008 political campaigns. And we're especially proud to be doing all this in a completely and appropriately nonpartisan manner, evidenced by the strong support and input of Schmidt and Plouffe."
At the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Ark., this month, Schmidt said that "institutions that do this kind of work where they [students] can be involved in public policy are very important." He referred to Plouffe as a "fantastic guy."
Biden holds double degrees from the University of Delaware. During the 2008 campaign, Biden said of Schmidt, "Blue Hens can go astray occasionally."
The university hopes that Biden will throw his weight behind the new center. "It would be presumptuous of me, or anyone at the university, to think that the vice president doesn't already have more than enough on his plate in his service to the nation," says Begleiter. "He has always been welcome at UD, and he's been here several times since his election to the vice presidency. If a day comes when Vice President Biden would like to work with us on this initiative and others, I'm absolutely sure his alma mater, the University of Delaware, will welcome it."