The Obama Campaign’s Real Heroes

obama_romney_flagmap_620x350Now that the dust has settled and the vote totals are nearly certified, it’s clear that the 2012 presidential election was never a squeaker. It was a landslide. Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by more than 4.6 million votes nationwide, driving the Republican down to a karmic 47 percent of the popular vote.

Obama didn’t win on merit alone. His high-tech, data-driven, socially-networked campaign was one for the history books, turning out key demographic blocks in astonishing numbers. Consider that in Ohio, the president’s team drove the African-American share of the electorate to up to 15 percent, versus 11 percent in 2008. That’s more than 200,000 new votes for the president in a state decided by a margin of 165,000. In other words: That was the ballgame.

President Obama owes his second term to a masterful campaign team – few of whom are household names. Here are ten heroes of the Obama 2012 team:

1. Jim Messina
Campaign Manager

Messina was never a popular choice among rank-and-file Democrats to lead the president’s campaign. In the White House, he’d cut many of the most unpalatable backroom deals to secure the passage of Obamacare. Worse, in previous campaigns in his home state of Montana, his record included airing this awful gay-baiting TV ad. And the one error he’s admitted to in the post-election aftermath won’t make progressives happy: “We waited too long to get into the SuperPAC world,” Messina told an audience at Harvard’s Institute of Politics’ quadrennial debriefing of the presidential campaigns’ top brass.

2. Michael Slaby
Chief Integration and Innovation OfficerThe 2012 campaign gave the Obama campaign one luxury that it didn’t have in 2008: Time. And the campaign made the most of that asset by engineering an in-house solution to a problem that had flummoxed previous campaigns. Namely, that the campaign’s databases couldn’t talk to each other. The party’s voter file, Obama’s fundraising database, third-party commercial data – they didn’t synch up.

3. Rayid Ghani
Chief Data Scientist

It’s one thing to aggregate terabytes of data on the American electorate. It’s quite another to make that data give up its secrets. For that job, the campaign snatched up Rayid Ghani, an expert in artificial intelligence from Accenture Labs, to be its Chief Data Scientist – an unprecedented job title on a presidential campaign.

4. Harper Reed
Chief Technology OfficerNo one personified the hacker vibe of the Obama campaign more than Harper Reed, the campaign’s Chief Technology Officer, who sported a caveman beard, Buddy Holly glasses and ear piercings. When Reed was hired, Jim Messina reportedly told him: “Welcome to the team. Don’t fuck it up.”

5. Jeremy Bird
Field General

Organizing the Obama campaign’s unprecedented army of get-out-the-vote volunteers was Jeremy Bird, a former Harvard divinity student who took to political organizing as though it were his higher calling. Bird leveraged the technology of Dashboard to organize far beyond the campaign office. “We could run neighborhood races,” he said at Harvard.

6. Teddy Goff
Digital Director

Teddy Goff directed the Obama campaign’s digital operations. That included handling the campaign’s email list for fundraising. The campaign famously A/B tested the efficacy of different asks to small groups – emails beginning with “hey” were particularly effective – before blasting the best performer to the entire list. The end result: $690 million raised online, up from $500 million in 2008.

7. David Axelrod
Senior Adviser

As he did in 2008, David Axelrod reprised his role as the campaign’s big-picture strategist. Immediately after the shellacking of the 2010 election, Axelrod recalled at the Harvard conference, he recognized that “the gravitational pull in the GOP was very much to the right” and that any plausible Republican candidate was going to “have to pass through that tollbooth to be nominated.”

8. Stephanie Cutter
Deputy Campaign Manager

Every campaign needs an attack dog and someone to call “bullshit.” Obama 2012 found both skills in Stephanie Cutter, the most high-profile woman on staff, whose nickname in Chicago was “The Ninja.”

9. David Simas
Director of Opinion Research

David Simas ran the single most sophisticated polling operation in the history of presidential politics. And his operation helped not only guide the campaign’s message on Romney’s Bain record and building a better future for the middle class, it also gave the campaign deep confidence going into election day that it was on target for victory.

10. Jim Margolis
Senior Adviser, Adman

Jim Margolis led the president’s TV ad blitz, outfoxing Mitt Romney and his allies to air far more television spots despite being outspent. The key, Margolis said at Harvard, was keeping more money in-house. In total the Obama campaign aired more than half a million of its own ads, compared to just 190,000 aired by Romney campaign. Romney’s allies tried to make up the difference. And the GOP machine ultimately spent $135 million more on television than did Obama and Democratic allies.

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