Jan 14, 2015 5:11 PM

Clinton recruiting Obama veterans for expected 2016 campaign

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) As Hillary Rodham Clinton builds up her expected presidential campaign, she's recruiting veterans of President Barack Obama's two successful White House runs, signaling to supporters that she's taking steps to avoid a repeat of her failed 2008 bid.

The overlap between Obama's longtime aides and Clinton's emerging campaign also deepens the merger of the Democratic Party's two most powerful factions. Even as the party's liberal wing searches for a potential alternative to Clinton, an alliance between the White House and her campaign would offer a contrast with the wide-open fight among Republicans for their nominee.

Among the Obama operatives joining their former rival's campaign are Joel Benenson, the president's longtime pollster who will take on the broader role of chief political strategist for Clinton, and Jim Margolis, who will serve as her top media adviser, the same role he held in Obama's campaigns.

A Democratic official familiar with Clinton's decision-making confirmed the moves. This official, like other Democrats aware of Clinton's maneuvers, was not authorized to publicly discuss the developments and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Clinton has not declared her candidacy, but addition of top Democratic talent to her team is among the clearest signs that an announcement is forthcoming. Clinton has paid speeches and appearances on behalf of the Clinton Foundation scheduled through March, suggesting her campaign may not begin until the spring

"Hillary knows that the last campaign didn't go well," said David Axelrod, a longtime Obama adviser. "For those asking if '16 will be different, these are some very strong signals."

Clinton supporters have been prodding the former secretary of state to manage her 2016 team differently than her last campaign, which was undermined by a mismanagement and internal strife. Her campaign also struggled to keep up with the more technologically savvy, data-driven Obama team, which revolutionized the ability to target specific voters.

Clinton and her team have signaled that they understand the need to fix the problems of 2008 and take advantage of the framework Obama created. Among the 2008 Clinton veterans not expected to return are pollster and strategist Mark Penn, who was seen as a polarizing figure within her campaign, and former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle.

Clinton's campaign is likely to include loyalists who have worked for her and Bill Clinton during the couple's decades in politics, including some who were with them during the 1990s and her 2008 campaign. Among them: John Podesta, who is leaving the White House in February as a presidential counselor and is expected to become Clinton's campaign chairman.

Mickey Kantor, the chairman of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign and a former U.S. trade representative, said Podesta would fill the critical role of being "someone who can talk to the principal in a way that's candid and direct."

Benenson and Margolis are expected to be joined by David Binder and John Anzalone, pollsters who worked for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

A second Democratic official said Clinton's team has been reaching out to Obama veterans to solicit suggestions for senior communications jobs, as well as the digital team and research staff.

No final decisions have been, according to the official.

Robby Mook, a Clinton campaign veteran who directed Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's successful race in 2013, remains the leading contender for campaign manager, party officials say.

More than any individual hiring decision, a melding of Obama and Clinton's teams would complete their evolution from bitter rivals to allies.

Clinton was Obama's first secretary of state and the two speak occasionally. But there has been lingering tension between their advisers that occasionally bubbles up. That happened last summer when Clinton was seen as being critical of the president's foreign policy.

Clinton is likely to distance herself from some of Obama's policies if she runs. Still, Democrats say they're buoyed by the prospect of a united front as the campaign begins, particularly as Republicans prepare for what could be a lengthy and crowded primary.

Benenson oversaw Obama's polling operation in both presidential campaigns. Based in New York, Benenson is a former aide to the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and has his own Clinton ties. He managed the Clinton-Gore polling operation during the 1996 campaign.

Margolis, a senior adviser to Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns, runs GMMB Inc., one the largest Democratic-leaning media firms. His presence would give Clinton access to advertising, media-buying and broadcast production in one place.

The firm oversaw about $450 million in advertising buys during the 2012 campaign and has a partnership with Civis Analytics, which offers expertise in big data and analytics.


Follow Ken Thomas at http://twitter.com/KThomasDC and Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/JPaceDC


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