WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, predicted more scrutiny of GOP White House frontrunner Newt Gingrich on Tuesday, citing the "homespun wisdom" of Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) as he compared Gingrich to a monkey on a pole exposing his butt.
Axelrod, campaign manager Jim Messina, press secretary Ben LaBolt and deputy manager Stephanie Cutter briefed reporters on the 2012 campaign at the Democratic National Committee headquarters here.
"This is the most unpredictable Republican race I have seen in my lifetime," Axelrod said.
The Obama team, headquartered in Chicago, for the first time raised a concern about the possibility of a third party -- organized by a new group, Americans Elect -- making it on the ballot in a large number of states.
Highlights from the briefing:
† Axelrod said Gingrich, a former House Speaker, has a long record that will be scrutinized.
"So the question is, can he sustain this over time?" Axelrod said.
"I told my colleagues yesterday a bit of homespun wisdom that I got from an alderman in Chicago some years ago when one of his . . . colleagues wanted to run for higher office and he was really dubious. He said, 'just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt.' So, you know, the Speaker is very high on the pole right now and we'll see how people like the view."
Axelrod told me afterwards that the alderman was Mell.
† Messina outlined five swing state paths for Obama to get the 270 electoral votes he needs to win a second term -- assuming he keeps as a base the states Sen. John Kerry won in the 2004 presidential election.
The paths: 1. Win Florida; 2. Win Ohio; 3. Win North Carolina and Virginia; 4. Win Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Iowa and 5. Win Arizona.
† Messina and Axelrod said they visited former President Bill Clinton in his Harlem office about a month ago to discuss his role in the 2012 campaign and to seek his advice.
† They predicted that the GOP primary could go to June and that would work to Obama's advantage because the Republicans will have pulled to the far right. "I think they are mortgaging themselves" for the general election, Axelrod said.
† Messina said the drive by a new group called Americans Elect -- bankrolled by millionaire businessman and hedge fund manager Peter Ackerman -- may result in a third-party presidential candidate on the ballot "in a lot of states" which will be "something we have to deal with." Axelrod mocked the rules of the group for selecting a presidential candidate as "uber democracy meets back-room bosses."
Kahlil Byrd, Chief Executive Officer of Americans Elect, replied, "Washington is failing the American people, and misinformed partisan attacks like these are a key reason why." By trashing Americans Elect, Messina and Axelrod gave the group its biggest shot of publicity yet.
† Messina highlighted two voter groups where Obama 2012 could grow support: Latino voters, who are registering in high numbers and the youth vote, with 8 million new voters between the ages of 18 and 21 eligible to vote in 2012 who were not in 2008. "Their brothers, their sisters, started this thing," Messina said.