The Inside Story of Obama's Road to the White House

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 9, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: You are about to get the inside story on President Obama's run for the White House from the man who was helping drive the campaign car every step of the way. President Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe is the author of the brand new book, "The Audacity to Win". He went "On the Record" in Philadelphia.


VAN SUSTEREN: David, nice to see you.


VAN SUSTEREN: A great new book, "The Audacity to win." I love books that give you the inside story. Was it fun to write?

PLOUFFE: It was fun to write. It is a great story. We have these great staffs. So what was wonderful to go back and recreate. It was a reminder of how difficult this was in the beginning. It was an improbable journey, and we got a lot of the big things right.

There is a mythology when you win that everything was pretty easy and you are flawless, and we made plenty of mistakes, so I thought it was important to capture the whole journey accurately.

VAN SUSTEREN: You write about Reverend Wright. Where was he?

PLOUFFE: I assume in Chicago. We are sitting here in Philadelphia today. This was the site, obviously, of a very important speech at the Constitution Center.

What I say is that we mishandled that. People like me didn't sit there and watch every video of every sermon that he ever did. And it was a fundamental mistake, and it took the idea to give that speech and then the writing of a very powerful speech really to get us through that rough moment.

VAN SUSTEREN: He said at that time if I recall, and correct me if I am wrong, he said he did not disavow him as a man. He was like an uncle.

PLOUFFE: Pretty much, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: It was not until the Reverend Wright appeared at the National Press Club, which, coincidentally, I was at the head table, it was just my rotation, and the Reverend Wright went after him personally, and he then disavowed him.

PLOUFFE: It was not just only that. The comments were not just pieces of sermons through 20 years. He really said some inflammatory things.

And that was a painful period. That is a very important church community. Trinity does wonderful work, helping those in need, so it was a tough decision to make.

But I think the way he handled the whole Wright thing, obviously -- it bothered people. It gave some people in digestion. But people had digested it and on the whole liked how the president handled that situation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was that scene at the time like, "Oh, no," just a horrible catastrophe internally? Or did it seem like something that could be handled?

PLOUFFE: You mean the National Press Club incident?

VAN SUSTEREN: No, the whole Reverend Wright issue.

PLOUFFE: Compared to New Hampshire, when we had one Iowa, but there was no doubt we were not the frontrunner. After Hillary wins New Hampshire she is probably in a stronger position.

When Reverend Wright really emerged, we have taken a significant lead in the race. We were the Democrats frontrunner. So we thought we would see it through.

And the morning of the National Press Club speech, and you might remember over a four day period Reverend Wright had three events, and the first two, we would have designed them, but they were not terribly awful, and then the National Press Club was an eruption, and that was another tough thing to do with, either days before the very important Indiana, North Carolina primaries.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did now President Obama or you or David Axelrod have any conversations with Reverend Wright between the time he spoke here in Philadelphia and the time at the National Press Club, any personal conversations?

PLOUFFE: I do not believe so in that timeframe.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did he say "You need to lie low"?

PLOUFFE: I think there is a discussion around that time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Between whom?

PLOUFFE: It has been reported that President Obama talked to Reverend Wright once. I did not and David Axelrod did not, but it was clear he became an unguided missile at some point and was out to do harm.

VAN SUSTEREN: He did not get mad, Reverend Wright?

PLOUFFE: I do not know. We didn't have any contact with him. The national press club speech was obviously something that was a moment.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mrs. Obama, and you mention in the book that she was important factor in terms of making the decision as to whether to run or not. Did she want to get involved in the campaign? What was her role?

PLOUFFE: She was an enormous asset. Obviously, with two young kids, she could not be on the campaign trail full time. But I write in the book, her nickname was "The Closer." When she would go to Iowa, she would draw nice crowds, and she was so effective with people.

And one of my most treasured moments of the campaign, because of some of the aftermath of that comment, which was misconstrued, that you mentioned, her speech at the convention, I think people really saw her and her values, and her popularity just skyrocketed, and it has never relented. I think she became somebody that people really respected.

She was great in the campaign, because she was a great surrogate, very effective out there, and she was a pleasure to have involved in the campaign.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about when Palin was chosen? What did you think?

PLOUFFE: Our convention ended Thursday night. That was decided long before Barack Obama had any idea of running for president.

So a bunch of us were staying behind in Denver so we would be not on planes the day that McCain picked Palin. It was very early in the morning.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who did you think it would be?

PLOUFFE: We thought it would be Pawlenty or Romney, but we weren't sure. So it took us by surprise like everyone else.

Our initial sense was this doesn't really make sense because he's been criticizing on his experience. And one of McCain real strengths was a lot of voters thought this was a guy who does not make all the decisions based on politics. And a lot of voters immediately thought it was a very political decision.

But in any good campaign, you do not like to be surprised. One of the things that we prided ourselves on was playing chess. Not just what we would do but what our opponents were going to do. So we were thrown off- stride, but I think we handled it, all things equal, pretty well, largely by just doing nothing and letting it play out.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think that Governor Palin got treated fairly by the press? Not whether you agree with sir, just whether she was treated fairly?

PLOUFFE: I think, things like the focus on the family was, as Barack Obama said, not appropriate. I think generally this is one of the tough things about a presidential process. You get thrown into the meat grinder, and you have to execute and thrive in a very tough obstacle course.

So what is interesting to me is voters, when they talked about this ticket, they rarely talked about it through the prism of Palin, they talked about what it said about McCain that he picked. There were some concerns about the process itself.

So voters are generally more sophisticated in how the process these things than they are sometimes given credit for.

VAN SUSTEREN: You write about how the president was much more interested in the consideration process of now Secretary of State Clinton being vice president than you and David Axelrod. You did not think that was such a good choice as he did.

PLOUFFE: And I made clear in the book that this was the most personal decision he made in the campaign, meaning a group of us did not sit around and talk about who we wanted to pick or who we thought would be the best pick, and then he would decide. He made this decision alone.

And I was surprised how seriously he was taking her, and that is why I wanted to write about in the book, because I think there was a sense that he had not taken her seriously. The fact that he picked her for secretary of state I think showed how much he valued her skill and intellect. Nobody can deny that she had a terrific set of skills.

VAN SUSTEREN: A fascinating new book, "The Audacity to Win," and my favorite is the inside story. I always love the nuts and bolts, because we see everything from the outside and we have no clue of what is going on inside. It's a great book.

PLOUFFE: I appreciate that.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about your experience on Fox, a good one?

PLOUFFE: We had a nice interview. I have been on Fox plenty of times before, and, anyway, I appreciate you having me on.

VAN SUSTEREN: Good, and good luck with your book.


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