Top Obama and McCain strategists are UD alums
10:02 a.m., Aug. 28, 2008--The 2008 presidential campaign pits Blue Hen versus Blue Hen, with former University of Delaware students guiding both the Republican and the Democratic campaigns.

The Republican campaign of John McCain is being led by Steve Schmidt, who attended the University from 1988 to 1993 as a political science major, and the Democratic campaign of Barack Obama is being guided by David Plouffe, who attended UD from fall 1985 through fall 1988, also as a political science major.

Schmidt was just three credits short of a degree when he left the University, and Plouffe was about a semester short when he set out on a career in politics.

Schmidt was featured in an Aug. 21 story in the Washington Post, which notes that the 37-year-old saw his UD academic career fall just short of a degree when he had difficulty with a mathematics course as the result of a learning disability.

Although the article by Lois Romano notes that Schmidt himself likes to keep a low profile, he has worked on a number of high-profile campaigns, including the 2004 presidential campaign of George W. Bush and the 2006 gubernatorial re-election campaign of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Romano writes, “Schmidt is one of the most forceful, successful and unconventional political operatives of his generation, running one of the most uphill GOP presidential efforts in decades--yet he is hardly known outside political circles.”

He joined the McCain campaign in July, bringing discipline to both the organization and the message. The result has been a sharp tightening of the polls.

Schmidt also was featured in a July 23 Wall Street Journal story, which included a sidebar noting that both he and Plouffe attended the University of Delaware. The story by Laura Meckler and Elizabeth Holmes said McCain has nicknamed his campaign manager “Sgt. Schmidt” for his formula for success, which they described as “a tightly controlled message delivered repeatedly and with almost military-like precision.”

Plouffe, like Schmidt, tends to keep a low profile, according to features in the July 8 Los Angeles Times and the June 8 Chicago Tribune.

The Los Angeles Times story by Peter Nicholas said the 41-year-old Plouffe displays “audacity” and “a talent for devising a campaign strategy, staying with it under fire and doing what it [takes] to win.”

“As for Plouffe's public profile, in a campaign inner circle marked by facelessness, no senior aide makes a greater point of avoiding public view than he does,” Nicholas writes, adding, “Yet he has a hand in virtually every aspect of Obama's world: field organization, advertising and fundraising, including the delicate task of drawing erstwhile [Hillary] Clinton supporters into the fold.”

The Chicago Tribune story by John McCormick said that Plouffe has been in politics since leaving UD, first going to work for the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, and in 2003 and 2004 working as a senior adviser to the presidential campaign of former Democratic Congressman Richard Gephardt.

A colleague, Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf, said in the story that Plouffe is “the most disciplined and focused person I have ever met in politics. It is very easy to get distracted by the press and donors and activists. David just has a great filter and he doesn't let any of the noise bother him. In a presidential campaign, that's a rare talent."

The UD connection does not end with the campaign managers, as Obama has selected U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. to be his running mate. Biden is a 1965 graduate of UD with a dual major in history and political science. His wife, Jill Jacobs-Biden, is also a UD graduate, earning a bachelor's degree in 1975 and her Ed.D. in 2006.

Given the many ties, a recent Bloomberg News story called the University of Delaware the “epicenter” of the 2008 presidential election.

Article by Neil Thomas
Photo by Kathy Atkinson