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.

Hollywood Mavericks: The Leading Man

leo_dicaprio_varticle_embed300Perhaps the boldest move in DiCaprio’s 20-year career is playing antebellum plantation owner Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. DiCaprio was drawn to him from the moment he read Tarantino’s script. He calls Calvin “one of, if not the most, despicable, indulgent, radical characters I’ve ever read in my life.” Naturally, DiCaprio signed on right away, and he promptly presented Tarantino with a gift: an antiquarian book on phrenology, the racist pseudo-science used to rationalize slavery. From there, DiCaprio and Tarantino made some striking modifications. “Writer-directors tend to be very precious about their material and their words,” he says, “but Quentin’s whole process is getting input from the actors and adding levels to their characters.” Perhaps no character evolved as much as Calvin, the master of Candyland plantation. “A lot of the talks we had specifically about phrenology really took him to a completely different level.”

Adding philosophical underpinnings to Calvin’s racism helped unlock the character, informing his affection for his surrogate father, a house slave played by Samuel L. Jackson, and his leering need to possess—as chattel—Django’s wife, played by Kerry Washington. Tarantino drew on phrenology to fashion an epic, incendiary monologue on racial superiority. The moment DiCaprio finished delivering the speech, the entire cast gave him a spontaneous standing ovation.

“He creates shades and layers and probes and just goes deeper than anybody else ever desires to,” says Stacey Sher, one of the film’s producers. “The last day, when everyone was saying goodbye to him, Leo was like, ‘Yeah, I’m sure happy not to be that guy anymore—it feels good.’ You knew he just felt lighter.”

Yet for the newly liberated Leonardo DiCaprio, there was never any hesitation about letting it all hang out—in Django, in what he calls Scorsese‘s “really wild, nuts movie,” and in a musically charged makeover of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “sacred” American novel.

“Of course it’s all risky,” he says, as a production assistant calls into the office to tell him he’s needed for the next scene. “I mean, that’s the excitement of doing it, you know?”

Trend of the Year: Alt R&B


From its late-’70s and ’80s catwalk of flamboyance, eccentricity, and innovation with Michael Jackson, Prince, and Sade, to its years in the wilderness as hip-hop’s hook-supplyin’ weed carrier, R&B is alive again! Cherry-picking the past while exploding conventions and taboos, an array of compelling artists have reinvented the genre as perhaps the only cool-yet-sane refuge for music fans in 2012.

The sheets of cheers coming from the first seven-or-so makeshift rows at Frank Ocean’s Lollapalooza performance this past summer were practically the Beatles at Shea Stadium. It was the closest to an unbridled can’t-hold-it-in embrace of a musician by his or her fans that I’ve ever witnessed. Ocean’s nighttime set began with an acoustic cover of Sade’s “By Your Side,” moved through songs from last year’s debut free download Nostalgia, Ultra and then the newly-released channel ORANGE, at his own deliberate pace. He stopped to praise the city of Chicago’s architecture, warned mind-altering newbies that they should take it easy, and held up one of the green-friendly cardboard cartons of water that were scattered all over the festival grounds and said they were “something else.” Then he worried aloud if that qualified as an endorsement.

The set ended with the 10-minute “Pyramids,” which conflates Sun Ra, Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” pop-Egyptology video, plus R. Kelly’s or T-Pain’s stripper jams, and is the centerpiece of Ocean’s album channel ORANGE (released in July), SPIN’s best of the year. While channel ORANGE undoubtedly signifies as R&B, it deftly bobs and weaves around the genre’s traditional expectations. Performing just a couple of hours before Ocean was fellow R&B boundary-pusher the Weeknd, a.k.a., Abel Tesfaye, who presented his risqué, heretofore anonymous R&B on one of the festival’s main stages — where, later in the night, the Red Hot Chili Peppers would unleash their weathered dude-funk.

Ocean’s performance came just a month after the singer-songwriter, 25, detailed his first love (to another man) in a Tumblr post, deading whispers about the loaded “he” pronoun on the channel ORANGE track “Bad Religion.” At Lolla, every song, every self-conscious joke, even a coy reference to the infamous first-love note, brought screams from Ocean-obsessives who had pushed to the front of the stage earlier in the evening to ensure a spot. CONTINUE READING..

Test The Kobe VIII In Front Of Kobe Bryant Himself


Everyone buys signature sneakers for different reasons, but here’s one that’s in the back of everyone’s mind: You want to feel like you are that player and have even a part of his game. At least, that’s what the sneaker companies want you to think. Be like Mike, right? Tomorrow, Nike is actually making that a reality by way of letting a select few at Los Angeles’ legendary Venice Beach courts try out the Nike Kobe VIII — as Kobe Bryant himself watches.

The 14-time All-Star will be at the historic courts to give fans a chance to try out the Kobe VIII system in a course that challenges players’ speed, accuracy, focus and vision. Bryant will be talking about the shoes, too. Check out for more information or check out the invitation at the top of this post.

Will you be at Venice Beach?

15 Ways Sneakerheads Are Like Apple Freaks


Differently the same. Whether we’re hashtagging our team on Twitter, lining up for new releases or running our mouths about the latest f*ckery in our “tight knit” community, Apple freaks (or fanboys if you prefer) and sneakerheads have a lot in common. Hate it or love it, we have some strikingly similar habits and practices. Check out the 15 Ways Sneakerheads Are Like Apple Freaks.


Interview: 50 Cent Talks Working With Eminem, the Threat of Falling Off, and How Social Media Changed Hip-Hop


50 Cent‘s fifth studio album, Street King Immortal, will be released early next year. It’s his first record in nearly four years, since 2009’s Before I Self Destruct, his lowest-selling project to date. Despite this, 50 Cent remains a hip-hop superstar, and he’s stayed in the news, publicly feuding with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and rapper French Montana. He’s also collaborated with rising Chicago artist Chief Keef, who infamously skipped out on the video shoot for single “Hate Being Sober,” abandoning 50 and Wiz Khalifa on a video set in the desert.  We spoke with 50 about his next album’s delays, the major success of his new single with Adam Levine and Eminem, and how much hip-hop has changed since his he hit the scene with his breakout work in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Interview by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)

What are you trying to accomplish with “My Life,” your new single with Eminem and Adam Levine?
50 Cent:
I recorded that record almost two years ago. That was with me and Adam [Levine]. We worked together and I got him to record the vocals for the chorus. My portion of the song was written and then I flew to Detroit and got Eminem to do his portion. He had a few ideas for songs for this album for me. He had started writing portions of those other records because they had choruses built on it. It felt like those hit records that Em was making at the time. It had those real pretty choruses on them. I was predicting what people [would say] based on the time period. Because it’s been three years since I released my last record, that they would say, “You fell off. You never had anything marketed or promoted for three years.” And them not understanding [that it’s] because it’s my final contract requirement. Contractually, if you go through an audit process and if you find things where you haven’t been paid, it’s a process for legal to actually write the check. You can’t deliver the record in between that time period. You got to wait until it’s completely dealt with. Now that it’s done, I can launch. CONTINUE READING

The fiscal cliff and you

departures-200-netbank-cs2007The fiscal cliff started to affect business decisions this fall. That’s why you saw small declines in manufacturing in Friday’s jobs report, for example.
It appears to be a worry for consumers now. The University of Michigan’s latest consumer sentiment survey shows confidence dropping to a four-month low. That suggests households are concerned about a potentially sharp fall in their after-tax incomes. The CBO data suggests they might want to be concerned.The CBO estimates suggest the 20% of households with the lowest incomes might see their taxes rise by $412. If you’re in the middle 20% of income levels — between $39,791 and $64,484 — the average increase would be $1,984. If you’re in the top 20% — $108,267 or above — the CBO is estimating an average increase of $14,173. If you’re in the top 1% — with income above $506,210 — the average increase might be about $120,500.

The threat of the cliff is the result of Congress’ inability in 2011 to come up with a package that would satisfy everyone. It came after threats of a government shutdown, a downgrade of U.S. debt by Standard & Poor’s and a short, intense panic in financial markets that sent the major stock market averages down. The provisions of the cliff were part of a deal made by Congress in an August 2011 budget bill. It set up a so-called Super Committee of members of Congress and the Senate who were supposed to hammer out $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years. If they couldn’t come up with a plan, then a mandatory combination of spending cuts and tax increases would kick
The Super Committee couldn’t agree on a plan, with Democrats and Republicans essentially deciding to wait until after the 2012 election to make decisions. The CBO sees the cliff cutting the federal deficit but also causing a recession, just as the economy is gaining some strength, that might not end until the end of 2013.