CHICAGO – Happy to be in Chicago at home helping to run President Obama's re-election effort, David Axelrod claims he's not salivating over the chance to slam Republicans over the latest dust-up back in Washington over the extension of the payroll tax cut.
"If I have the choice between extending the tax cut for a year and energizing our economy and having an issue to run on, I'd rather energize the economy," Axelrod said in an exclusive interview with Fox News. "I think that it's better for the country, it's better for the president. Frankly it's better for the Congress even if they don't see it."
In the next breath, however, Axelrod flatly charged the latest move by House Republicans to block a Senate compromise extending the tax cut for two months is an effort by the GOP to choke off any economic recovery and damage Obama's already difficult re-election prospects.
"You have to wonder whether some folks over there think somehow -- think screwing up the economy, throwing a wrench in the works is a good political strategy for them," Axelrod told Fox News. "Somehow if they can slow the recovery down, if they can cost a half million or delay a half million jobs, that that will hurt the president."
House Republicans were expected to reject Senate-passed payroll tax legislation with a price tag is $33 billion. The Senate measure allows for the Social Security tax rate to stay at 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent for another two months instead of the year that most House GOP members prefer.
"Doing a two-month extension instead of a full-year extension causes uncertainty for job creators," House Speaker John Boehner said in remarks to reporters. "A two-month extension creates uncertainty and will cause problems for people who are trying to create jobs in the private sector."
Boehner said he wants to come up with a compromise the old-fashioned way -- in a conference of House and Senate lawmakers, though House votes on the issue were postponed until Tuesday.
Back in Washington, the president and his aides say they're not watching the GOP nomination fight closely as they deal with the Congressional endgame. Here in the president's hometown, however, Fox News was given a tour today of the Obama team's 50,000-square-foot re-election headquarters where dozens of paid staffers are working around the clock to be ready for the eventual Republican standard bearer.
In an interview across town in the offices of Axelrod's private consulting business -- which is lined with photos of political memorabilia and campaigns past -- the president's top campaign strategist mused this year's race is even more exciting than the 2008 Democratic slugfest between then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
"It's the most peculiar race -- most unusual I should say -- race that I've seen," Axelrod said. "On the Republican side certainly and probably both sides because of how unpredictable it's been."
"I think that the assumption has been that Governor Romney will wear everybody out, that you know he'll win the war of attrition," said Axelrod. "But who knows?"
Nevertheless, Axelrod still trained his fire on Romney.
"The whole core of Governor Romney's campaign is that I'm not a politician, I'm a businessman," said Axelrod. "Leave aside the fact that he's been running for office for 17 years, and that he's put 52 million dollars of his own money into those campaigns. I think when you spend 52 million dollars on your own campaigns, you qualify as a politician."
Axelrod also mocked Gingrich by borrowing an old adage from a former Chicago alderman who years ago decided not to run for higher office.
"'The higher a monkey climbs up a pole, the more you can see his butt,'" recalled Axelrod. "Meaning that the more prominent you become, the more you become the front-runner, the more everybody takes a close look at you. And that's certainly what's happening with the Speaker.”
Still, Axelrod vowed that if Gingrich winds up as the GOP nominee, the Obama campaign would not use any of its ads or other mediums to slam the former Speaker about his personal life -- although the door, of course, would still be open for outside Democratic groups to launch such attacks.
"Obviously people will make judgments on these candidates as human beings and how they live their lives," said Axelrod. "I'm not going to stray into those waters."
Axelrod said the Obama campaign would rather focus on substantive issues like the economy, and believes it has a compelling case the President rescued the nation from a second Great Depression and slowly but surely is turning it around.
In order to size up the entire Republican field, Axelrod borrowed a line from Romney, who recently charged to The New York Times that some of Gingrich's ideas are "zany" and not mainstream conservative.
Axelrod noted there were more than two dozen debates in the 2008 Democratic primary and he suggested the current GOP field is nowhere near as strong as the group that included Obama, Clinton and other Democrats like then-Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd.
"There were a lot of plausible presidents on that platform," said Axelrod. "It was a -- it was really I think a substantive exchange and it's different in many ways from what you've seen on the Republican side, which is, you know -- I don't know -- dare I say 'zany'?"