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It wasn't easy for President Obama's senior adviser David Axelrod to leave Washington, D.C., behind.
A snow storm of epic proportions was bearing down on Chicago, a typical Windy City welcome home party. He was concerned that his flight would be cancelled. He couldn't face telling his daughter Lauren, who has fought a lifelong battle with epilepsy, that he might be late. She's a daddy's girl, like most daughters, looking forward to a bit more time with the man who spends most of his time with the president of the United States.
But there was another thing that made leaving a bit harder than he thought.
After all his grumping about the culture of Washington, he says he kind of grew to like the place. There were lots of close friends he'd made, and it was bittersweet to step out of the powerful office he enjoyed in the West Wing for the last two years.
Axelrod reflected on the tough times that followed the euphoric election night he'd worked so long to see happen.
He said the financial disaster was all-encompassing to the administration. That is the reason given to explain what critics say was a huge come-down for the president -- as the gifted orator seemed to lose his connection with the crowd.
Axelrod defends the administration's choice to plow ahead with health care, a move that polls indicated had pulled the president's attention away from what people wanted him to focus on -- jobs and the economy.
As stimulus sputtered in its attempt to rev the economic engine, the man who once graced magazine covers bathed in angelic glow seemed to have lost the halo.
But Axelrod remains the president's staunchest defender. He speaks of him in almost paternal tones and makes no bones about his admiration for Obama.
How does he respond to the charge that the president at times seemed thin-skinned and arrogant? Axelrod says that's not the man he knows. He describes his boss as an ardent listener, and claims that confidence can sometimes be mistaken for arrogance.
His departure was always in the plan, he says. He wanted to head back to Chicago after two years.
Still, there is no denying the wholesale shake-up in the West Wing. Boxes are packed and pictures taken down. David Plouffe is moving in to Axelrod's office. He becomes the "keeper of the message" for now.
Nearly all of the economic and communications team, as well as the chief of staff have turned over in the last couple of months. Coincidentally or not, that's also the timeframe during which Axelrod says a new feeling has swept into the administration.
After the speech in Tucson following the shooting of 19 people outside a grocery store, pundits showered the president with praise. He had finally become "presidential." The getting down-in-the weeds elements that characterized the missteps, and the name-calling of Republicans -- "enemies" -- seemed to be behind Obama for the time being.
So has the president truly become more centrist and did new advisers push him in that direction? Axelrod says no. He is the man he's always been, in his opinion.
He describes him in Reaganesque terms -- an optimist whose aim has always been to bring the country together. It's just that people are finally getting to know him, he opines.
Will the president surprise his nay-sayers by calling the nation to get behind serious spending cuts? The outgoing "keeper of the message" will not commit on that or how he will respond if the president's health care plan happens to confront a Supreme Court challenge during the election.
For now, Obama's good buddy is heading back to their old stomping ground, where it all began, to try to make the magic happen a second time. He says he has no preference in opponents, that they will take on all comers.
He calls Mitt Romney a serious contender and equates "Romneycare," the former Massachusetts governor's health care plan in his state, to "Obamacare." Already, the wheels appear to be turning in how to neutralize what will likely be one of the campaigns heated debates. He says Sarah Palin is quote "interesting" and smiles that wry Axelrod smile.
This week back in Chicago, he looks forward to going to the movies in the afternoon with his wife, Susan. He will write and give speeches. No doubt, the downtime will be brief.
Dick Cheney has said President Obama is a one-termer, and Axelrod intends to prove the former vice president wrong.