Profile: The election guru with a winning record

Profile: The election guru with a winning record

Former Presidental adviser David Axelrod hopes to send Ed Miliband to Downing Street next year.
Former Presidental adviser David Axelrod hopes to send Ed Miliband to Downing Street next year.

Born in February 1955, like his latest client Ed Miliband into a Jewish family, David Axelrod is the is the son of a left-wing journalist and a psychologist who became engrossed with politics from his earliest years.

Former Presidental adviser David Axelrod hopes to send Ed Miliband to Downing Street next year.
Former Presidental adviser David Axelrod hopes to send Ed Miliband to Downing Street next year.

Behind Axelrod’s self-confessed “tired and rumpled” appearance lies what is widely considered to be the sharpest brain of his generation when it comes to engineering unexpected election victories.

Made famous beyond the backroom for helping convince Americans to pick their first black president, his status was assured when he propelled Barack Obama into a second White House term against the odds.

But they are only the highest profile in a string of Democrat successes that have made the 59-year-old New Yorker a coveted addition to any campaign team, especially one battling to win over a sceptical electorate.

It began 30 years ago when, fresh from quitting his job as the youngest political editor in the history of the Chicago Tribune, he was credited with ousting a three-term Republican senator for Illinois.

Three years later, as he began to carve out his reputation as a master of campaign strategy and media message in the ultra-tough “street fighting” politics of the Windy City, his next milestone was the re-election of its first black mayor.

Harold Washington was the first of numerous black hopefuls he worked for, culminating in his decision to join the young Obama’s team for the 2008 presidential race – despite having previously worked for all the other Democrat hopefuls and having personal ties with one, Hillary Clinton.

His reward for masterminding a campaign based on a message of “hope” and centred on the sort of “everyday people” concerns Labour is seeking to highlight was an appointment as a senior White House adviser often with a seat right at the top table.

However it is the more brutal campaign he oversaw to see off the challenge of Mitt Romney at a time when US voters appeared disillusioned with the failure to deliver on that promise that some see as his greater strategic triumph.

Growing up in the working-class Stuyvesant Town neighbourhood, aged just five he was transfixed by a John F Kennedy rally and it was not long before the youngster became steeped in campaigning, at least in terms of delivering leaflets.

A degree in political science from the University of Chicago – where he met his wife Susan with whom he has three children – was followed by his successful foray into a journalism career before he took the plunge into the fray himself.

His firm, AKPD, now has offices in four US cities.

UK observers may be surprised to find the once famously-moustachioed Axelrod now appearing clean shaven.

The facial hair, part of an appearance that has often led to claims of burnout but which he insists is “just the way I look”, was removed live on television in 2012.

Despite winning a wager that Obama would win three tough states, he underwent a live shave after viewers took up his alternative challenge to raise one million dollars (£600,000) in a month for an epilepsy charity chaired by his wife.

It is an issue close to the couple’s heart as their daughter has the condition.

Labour will hope there have been no Samson-like ramifications – with critics pointing out that the last European campaign the strategist was involved in was not a huge success.

Former Italian prime minister Mario Monti secured only 10.5% of the vote despite the guru’s advice.

Labour campaign chief Douglas Alexander is certain that his arrival is “seriously bad news”…for the Tories.

“He has been able to get middle class Americans to support a progressive political project, he is used to winning big majorities and he is used to discrediting negative personalised attacks,” the MP said.

“I’m afraid we expect a campaign of fear and smear from the Conservatives I can’t think of anybody I would rather have alongside me in the trench than David Axelrod.”

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