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All shook up: Barack Obama's staff hasn't been

April 7, 2008 |  6:26 pm

If one measure of a presidential candidate's potential effectiveness in office is staff management and cohesiveness, there's a clear winner among the remaining contenders.

It's not John McCain, who last summer discovered he wasn't on the same page with either his campaign manager (Terry Nelson) or chief strategist (John Weaver).  Both departed, leaving behind an emptyDavid Axelrod chief political strategist for Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama of Illinois    treasury and a candidate whose prospects appeared on life support.

It's not Hillary Clinton, who has presided over two major staff upheavals.  In mid-February, loyalist Patti Solis Doyle stepped aside as campaign manager, replaced by loyalist Maggie Williams.  Now the controversial Mark Penn has been jettisoned (among the many slings and arrows directed his way since news broke Sunday evening that he was out, our favorite was this pithy point in Beth Fouhy's story for the Associated Press: "Critics also complained that as both pollster and senior strategist, Penn was engaged in a profound conflict of interest — testing the very campaign messages he himself created.").

As has been previously noted, the negative effect of personnel shakeups can be overstated -- in part because most voters could not care less and in part because the changes ultimately might be a good thing.  Still, it's hard not to be struck by how little it seems Barack Obama's brain trust ...

has been riven by jealousy, back-biting and bad vibes.

It's not as if there haven't been moments when a barrage of internal sniping could have been expected from team Obama; his surprise loss in New Hampshire springs to mind.  Maybe there have been bouts of finger-pointing among Obama's top aides, and they've simply done a good job of keeping it private.  But even that speaks to a discipline not evident in the workings of the Clinton campaign.

All of which leads us to recommend this recent piece by the National Journal's James Barnes.

The headline, "Obama's Inner Circle," is prosaic but accurate.  Barnes provides mini-looks at a plethora of Obama aides.  These include the few who have obtained prominence as the presidential race has slogged on -- strategist David Axelrod (above, working the press on the campaign plane), manager David Plouffe, economic advisor Austan Goolsbee (spotlighted because of his poor judgment in having a badly timed back-channel meeting with Canadian officials) -- as well as those who haven't but who wield behind-the-scenes clout, such as Valerie Jarrett, an old friend of both the candidate and his wife, Michelle (and the grand-niece of one of Bill Clinton's buddies, Vernon Jordan).

The Obama folks have to start airing their dirty laundry someday, right?  That's just human nature. And Barnes' article will serve as a useful guide to the players.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Getty Images

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