In his new memoir, David Axelrod recounts his years as a top adviser to Barack Obama. Less flatteringly, he also describes his time as a consultant to the 2004 presidential campaign of then North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards.
In “ Believer,” Axelrod describes how it was his wife, Susan, who first had reservations about John and Elizabeth Edwards.
Axelrod met the Edwardses in 2003, when the candidate was looking for a media consultant. Elizabeth told him about how after their son Wade was killed in a freak accident, they had two more children to fill “the hole in our hearts.”
On hearing the story, Susan Axelrod was incredulous.
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“And now they’re going to run for president and basically orphan them for the next couple of years?” she asked. “Dave, I don’t think you should do this race. There’s something wrong with this picture.”
Axelrod writes he never felt Edwards was “dealing from the top of the deck with me.” Yet it was Elizabeth he found to be “the most difficult personality in this caustic stew.”
He found her publicly charming but “prone to fits of rage, which often played out in nasty emails or late-night calls.”
He and Elizabeth clashed on advertising tactics and campaign strategy. Eventually, he found himself pushed aside. “We maintained the fiction that I was the chief media strategist,” he wrote, “though I was no longer even in the loop.”
At the time, Axelrod was working for Obama’s Senate campaign.
“It was revealing to work with Obama and Edwards at the same time,” he recalls. “Edwards was a stellar performer on the stump, but his one-on-one interactions with people were plastic, and out of the public eye, his interest in the substance of issues was thin.
“He wanted only as much information as he needed to glide by – and he was bright and glib enough to glide a long way.
“Once he locked in his lines, Edwards delivered them flawlessly, repeating on cue every word, every inflection, every catch in the throat, and every tearful eye. It reminded me of the George Burns adage: ‘The secret of acting is sincerity. If you can fake that you’ve got it made’.”
Axelrod also writes that former presidential candidate John Kerry got to be no fan of his erstwhile 2004 running mate.
Axelrod writes that before Kerry tapped Edwards as his vice presidential nominee, Kerry extracted a promise that if they lost, Edwards would give him first shot at the 2008 race.
“Almost immediate after the polls closed in 2004, Edwards started maneuvering for the 2008 nomination,” Axelrod writes. “It was the kind of betrayal politicians don’t soon forget, and clearly Kerry hadn’t.”
With Edwards off and running in 2008, Kerry was an early endorser of Barack Obama.