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Campaign Inc.

How Leadership and Organization Propelled Barack Obama to the White House

Henry F. De Sio., Jr.

Publication Year: 2014

It takes more than an excellent candidate to win elections; it takes an outstanding campaign organization, too. Campaign Inc. is the story of how leadership and organization propelled Barack Obama to the White House. As the chief operating officer of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Henry F. De Sio, Jr., was positioned to view this historic campaign as few others could. In this fascinating behind-the-scenes account, he whisks readers into Obama’s national election headquarters in Chicago to glimpse the decision-making processes and myriad details critical to running a successful and innovative presidential campaign. From the campaign’s early chaos to the jubilation and drama of winning the Iowa caucus, to the drawn-out Democratic nomination process, to Obama’s eventual election as president of the United States, De Sio guides readers through the challenges faced by the Obama for America campaign in its brief twenty-one-month lifespan.

De Sio shows readers that Obama himself was direct about his vision for the campaign when he instructed his staff to “run it like a business.” Thus, this is less the story of Barack Obama, candidate, and more the story of Barack Obama, CEO. Because campaigns are launched from scratch during every election cycle, they are the ultimate entrepreneurial experience. In the course of the election, the Obama campaign scaled up from a scrappy start-up to a nearly $1 billion operation, becoming a hothouse environment on which the glare of the media spotlight was permanently trained.

Campaign Inc. allows readers to peek behind the curtain at the underdog organization that brought down the Clinton campaign and later went on to defeat the Republican machine, while offering lessons in leadership and organization to innovators, executives, and entrepreneurs.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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Preface

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pp. ix-xvi

Everything I know about the physics of winning and success I learned from the campaign trail. There is always a winner and a loser. The campaign world, just like the business world, is highly competitive. And because political campaigns are launched from scratch every election...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-12

On March 1, 2011, I determined it was time for me to begin making plans to leave the White House. This triggered a series of meetings in the West Wing later that day in an effort to ensure there would be enough time to accommodate a transition of my responsibilities. While...

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1. No Drama Obama

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pp. 13-28

I dreaded my new campaign BlackBerry, yet habitually fumbled for it immediately upon waking each day. The device delivered the regular dose of SOS’s that as the “organization guy” I could not avoid. I was the fireman. When people needed my help it was often an emergency, and...

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2. Stick to the Plan

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pp. 29-52

“The states are unhappy.” That was the first thing Steve Hildebrand told me when I joined the campaign. Steve was very specific with his concerns about a lack of responsiveness at headquarters to our staff in the early states. He was particularly worried about Iowa and asked for...

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3. Rise to Big Moments

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pp. 53-68

“That’s how you perform under pressure,” Senator Obama lightheartedly joked with the news team covering his education-themed event at a South Carolina school gymnasium. Reporters weren’t satisfied. They were clamoring to interview him about what had just transpired. The...

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4. Be Faster

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pp. 69-82

It was a shocker. On the morning of Friday, January 4, the nation was greeted with news of a stunning win by perhaps the freshest face in politics over one of the most familiar. Behind a record turnout of 240,000 Iowa caucus-goers, nearly twice the number posted in 2004, we pulled...

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5. Yes We Can!

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pp. 83-100

Barack Obama’s unlikely victory in a rural white state over his powerhouse rival set the political world on its head. It afforded his candidacy a fresh burst of credibility, even as America was suddenly scrambling to learn more about the Democratic Party’s new prince. At headquarters...

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6. Bend, Don’t Break

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pp. 101-116

We knew that good news awaited us on the other side of Super Tuesday if we could just hold our own on the day itself. We did. And on Wednesday, February 6, with five Election Days and twenty-seven races behind us, we found ourselves in a dead heat against the most formidable...

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7. In Crisis, Stay on Offense

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pp. 117-134

It felt like March 4 took forever to arrive, but it quickly turned into a distant memory after the elections ended. Even though Hillary Clinton’s victories from that day were being trumpeted in the media as some sort of game changer, she ultimately earned less than a handful more...

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8. Run It like a Business

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pp. 135-154

The last day of the primary voting season was set for June 3, featuring a doubleheader with contests in South Dakota and Montana. May 18 was a high point for us during that last stretch. An astonishing eighty thousand supporters turned out for an impressive rally in Portland...

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9. Lead from Within

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pp. 155-172

Around the first week of July, the paper came off the windowed fishbowl, indicating that we had finally settled on a plan. If the campaign felt stalled at the beginning of June, things were now quickly falling into place. After weeks of wracking my brain over what to do about...

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10. Contrast Thyself

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pp. 173-188

As we moved into summer, Senator Obama came under fire for what some on the Left characterized as his “move to the middle.” Republicans preferred the term flip-flopping. Regardless, there was noise from both sides of the political spectrum that our candidate was disingenuously...

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11. Know Where to Be to Effectively Lead

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pp. 189-208

I sat on the floor, gazing at my television screen while slowly tying my shoes. I was captivated by the breaking news bulletin being aired. My BlackBerry laid arm’s length away with a half-written note waiting to be finished and sent. Twelve hours earlier, from the same spot in my...

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12. Close the Deal

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pp. 209-224

The night before the election I got home at midnight. Three hours later I was up again and shuffling around my apartment. By 4 a.m., I was back out the door. Before I left, I fumbled around in the kitchen for a pen and a piece of paper. Having found both, I scribbled some words...

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After Words

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pp. 225-232

Early the next morning, I made my way to campaign headquarters. There wasn’t much reason to be in so early, except my wife needed the baby stroller that we left in my office the night before. It was dark inside, but the television sets were still aglow, flashing images of the joyful.

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 233-236

I am reminded of a note that President Obama scrawled out to my youngest son on his second birthday. It read in part: “Zane, dream big dreams.” Growing up in the 1970s in my little town of Three Rivers, California...


E-ISBN-13: 9781609382872
E-ISBN-10: 1609382870
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609382698
Print-ISBN-10: 1609382692

Page Count: 252
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: paper
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth

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Subject Headings

  • Obama, Barack.
  • Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 2008.
  • Political campaigns -- United States -- History -- 21st century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 2001-2009.
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