It had researched every piece of its own message machine and found one area that required urgent fixing. Focus group data suggested that the campaign needed more women on television. Women voters would be a dominant part of any victory in a tough political year for the president.
But Obama’s surrogates on TV were mainly men like David Axelrod, the campaign’s senior strategist. So when a request landed from CBS, a young staffer passed on the booking to the highest-profile woman at campaign headquarters in Chicago: Stephanie Cutter.
Cutter was deputy campaign manager. But she had long fretted about her status within Obama’s tight circle, not least after failing to get the job and power she wanted in the West Wing. Her comfort lay in maintaining the tightest grip on the campaign’s communications, including the kind of TV punditry she also found flattering.
Cutter asked Axelrod if it was okay for her to take the slot, and he agreed. An hour later though, he discovered a crucial piece of missing information: CBS had first asked for him.
Axelrod marched into Cutter’s office at the Prudential building to demand an explanation. Why did nobody tell him what was happening? Why was he in the position of looking so bad in front of his media friends?
“CBS asked for me, not you,” Axelrod thundered.
“I didn’t know that,” Cutter explained. “I was asked to do it. I didn’t know what the request was.”
He was convinced that Cutter was trying to steal the limelight. She claimed she wasn’t. Both were unsure of their own status and unsure of their own purpose.