Beneath his slightly drooping mustache, David Axelrod may seem soft-spoken. But his mild manners shouldn't fool anyone. When it comes to wielding influence in the White House, "Ax," as the president calls him, is near the top.
Formerly Obama's chief campaign strategist, Axelrod is now his senior adviser. That means not only that he helps refine Obama's message but also that he has his ear and is often the first to deliver good (or bad) news to him. As well as being the "political voice of the administration," Axelrod is "clearly somebody that the president is very comfortable and confident with," says Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar who served in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations.
Obama and Axelrod, who have known each other since 1992, have said they share a "worldview." For Axelrod, 54, that worldview was shaped early on. Growing up in New York City, he was fascinated by the Kennedys. After getting a political science degree from the University of Chicago and working for eight years at the Chicago Tribune, where he was the youngest ever to be named chief political reporter, he entered the fray himself as a political consultant. His client list grew to include Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (also a close friend), and, at one point or another, five of the eight 2008 Democratic presidential candidates.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly how much sway Axelrod has with the president. Maybe some day the reporter turned kingmaker will pen a tell-all book. Until then, the full extent of his influence may remain unknown and even underestimated.