A Bourbon Room Exclusive: An Interview With David Plouffe, Campaign Manager for Barack Obama

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The Bourbon Room: Sometimes press coverage of a surge lags behind the actual voter movement. Similarly, a surge may ebb just as the media begins to report on it. Where is the Obama campaign on the surge continuum in Iowa and N.H.? The Bourbon Room senses you've plateaued a bit in Iowa.

David Plouffe: In recent polls, Senator Obama has been either tied or ahead of Senator Clinton in Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire, a place where Senator Clinton was more than ten points ahead just recently. All the other trends over the last few weeks - in crowds, enthusiasm, and organization – also point to increasing support for Barack. But this will be a close race that goes down to the wire, and that is why we are focused on getting out Barack's message of bringing Iowans - and the United States - change that we can believe in.

The Bourbon Room: Why isn't Bill Clinton right to say an agent of change (he says it's Hillary) is better than a "symbol" of change which he says is Obama?

David Plouffe: He’s right than an agent of change is more important than someone who’s just a symbol of change, but he’s wrong to say that’s Senator Clinton. There is only one candidate in this race who has a proven record of standing up to the special interests, and bringing Democrats and Republicans together to bring about change for ordinary Americans. And that’s Barack Obama.

The Bourbon Room: By definition, Obama represents more than partisan or ideological change. You've thought about this a million times, I'm sure, but as the first momentous contest looms so close and with the race so tight, how confident are you that Iowa and, by extension, America is ready for the political-cultural-racial change Obama represents? Secondarily, how great a risk is there that all this momentum may end up in bitter disappointment rather than transcendent change?

David Plouffe: As Senator Obama has said, when he’s elected America will look at itself differently and the world will look at America differently. We’ll have renewed hope that our leaders can bring this country together so we can meet the challenges we face, and the world will have renewed hope that America is ready to lead again. That’s a change Americans are ready for.

On the second question, if Senator Obama had listened to the cynics, he never would have passed the strongest ethics reform in Illinois in 25 years, or the most sweeping ethics reform in the U.S. Senate since Watergate. So we’re not going to start listening to the cynics now.

The Bourbon Room: There's no history of 20-somethings playing a decisive role in the Iowa caucuses. None. Even up to 35 year olds, participation is minimal. Why on earth does this campaign believe it can do what no other campaign has done?

David Plouffe: There’s no doubt that Barack Obama has energized Americans to get involved in their democracy in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time. That’s why we’re seeing such large crowds wherever Obama goes. That’s why so many young people are involved in this campaign. And that’s why we expect young supporters to play an important role on caucus night.

The Bourbon Room: Who is the bigger obstacle to change in Washington, a lobbyist or a Republican?

David Plouffe: The biggest obstacle to change in Washington isn’t one person, one industry, or even one party. It’s a mindset that puts the partisan and special interests ahead of the people’s interests. That’s the mindset Barack Obama will change when he’s president. He’ll be honest with the American people about the challenges we face, and show leadership that’s based on principle and conviction, not poll-driven calculation.

The Bourbon Room: Has the Bush presidency lowered the bar on the "experience factor," in that many Americans may now discount the value of his "experienced" set of advisers and look at Obama and say "could it get any worse?"

David Plouffe: The question many Americans are asking is who has the right kind of experience to be President. Senator Clinton has lots more experience working the system in Washington than Barack Obama. But the system in Washington is broken. As a U.S. Senator with a strong record of challenging conventional thinking in Washington and reaching across the aisle to get things done, Barack Obama has the experience America needs right now.

The Bourbon Room: The campaign has tried very hard to avoid calling itself a movement, a revolution or any all-encompassing label that would identify Obama in a way that might leave some feeling excluded or uneasy. After all, revolutions and movements have an us versus them division at their core. Why is it so important for Obama to avoid this "branding" and how much does America's racial history play into that calculus?

David Plouffe: I disagree with the premise of the question. We’ve been calling ourselves a grassroots movement for change from the very beginning – because that’s exactly what we are. This campaign is built on an unprecedented amount of support from ordinary Americans. And it’s precisely because this movement includes so many Americans of every race, religion, and political party that Obama is the most electable candidate in this race, and the only candidate who can enter the White House with the broad coalition to enact an agenda for change.

The Bourbon Room: With camp Clinton lowering expectations in Iowa and Edwards trapped in the "must win" reality of his campaign, where is Team Obama on its chances in Iowa and the possibility and necessity of victory on Jan. 3?

David Plouffe: We’ve said from the beginning that every candidate has to do well in Iowa to continue on in this race. And we’re confident that we’ve built the kind of strong grassroots organization across the state to do just that on January 3.

The Bourbon Room: David Plouffe, thanks for visiting. Come back any time.