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Robert Gibbs, Barack Obama's wordly defender in chief

November 18, 2008 |  6:24 am

On one of his last nights on the campaign trail, Barack Obama was agitated.  He was backstage and face-to-face berating a traveling aide after giving a speech to an overflow crowd at a football field.

Like a referee inserting his body between two fighting players, Robert Gibbs stepped in and ushered Obama away from the ashen aide.  Later, Gibbs said the flare-up was over a teleprompter malfunction.

Robert Gibbs expected to be named White House press secretary for Democrat president elect Barack Obama There are few Obama advisors with the clout (a Chicago kind of word) to defuse such a squabble.  And in recent years none has spent as much time around the future president as Gibbs, who is expected soon to be formally named White House press secretary.

Past occupants of the job have not always had such intimate knowledge of the thoughts, habits and deep secrets of the Oval Office's inhabitant.

Theoretically, that could allow Gibbs to give highly informed responses from the White House podium.  But it will also make it more difficult to claim he doesn't know the answers.

The Alabama native will bring his slight Southern drawl and Deep South roots to the most visible post in the administration of the nation's first black president.

The 37-year-old Gibbs also brings a taste for a good fight. (See video below.)  Gibbs can have a foul mouth and is not shy about mocking reporters, sometimes over relatively minor points.

His favorite lines have been dubbed "Gibbs-isms" by colleagues, including one about feeling like a "one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest."  The son of two librarians, Gibbs can seem pretty disorganized. He often ends trips with notes on cards, napkins and borrowed scraps of paper.

Before there was a media pack, Gibbs spent much of 2005 and 2006 traveling with Obama on commercial planes and small private jets as the future president built his national political network and raised money.

When it came time to start campaigning, Gibbs was often the highest-ranking advisor on the plane as the candidate and traveling press corps crisscrossed the nation.

He was part of the small group of men who formed something of a traveling locker room around Obama. Watching and debating sports and players was often the topic of choice.  "It gives us something to talk about that isn't always so serious," Gibbs said Friday. "Not to say sports isn't pretty serious."

So how does this fellow Gibbs work the words in defense of his boss, the president-elect.  Our Swamp colleague John McCormick has much more detail on Gibbs right here, including what happened to one of Gibbs' ties on an important night a few years ago.

But before you go there, click on the "Read more" line below and experience the combative Gibbs in full action against Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credit: Alex Brandon / Associated Press