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Can David Plouffe rescue Democrats' agenda?

By Ed Hornick, CNN
David Plouffe was President Obama's campaign manager in 2008.
David Plouffe was President Obama's campaign manager in 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Plouffe was Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign manager
  • Plouffe is now an outside adviser to the White House
  • His new role comes after a Democrat's loss to a Republican in Massachusetts election

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration's decision to utilize David Plouffe as an outside adviser is a sign that after last week's election in Massachusetts, the White House is aiming to turn the tide against an angry electorate, a top Democratic strategist said.

The hiring of Plouffe, who designed Obama's presidential campaign, comes at an important time, said James Carville, a CNN political contributor and former aide to President Clinton.

"You got to look at this thing in Massachusetts, and think that's a real signal here," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "If you don't deal with it, it's going to get worse."

By the looks of it, Plouffe is trying to rally the troops who got Obama elected.

Democrats must "regroup, refocus, and re-engage on the vital work ahead," Plouffe wrote in an e-mail Monday to members of Organizing for America, the group that evolved from Obama for America after the election.

Plouffe said that Massachusetts was a tough blow to Democrats.

"We've hit some serious bumps in the road recently in our march toward change," he wrote in the e-mail. "We always knew it would be difficult, but this past week has definitely been a hard one, for all of us."

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Democrats now risk losing their majority in the House in November if they don't figure something out, Carville said.

In the special election in Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the solid blue state, which overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008. The win shocked Democrats across the country and gave Republicans, who have minorities in the House and Senate, a renewed energy.

Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the Rothenberg Political Report, said bringing in Plouffe is a sign that the White House is "awake and wants to be more involved."

Gonzales said it's unclear how Plouffe's re-engagement is going to play with Democratic strategists helping House and Senate members campaign.

Plouffe's involvement could be just as symbolic as it is strategic.

"Maybe the White House is trying to bring comfort to the Democratic caucus that they are engaged in and ready for the fight. Some of the message coming out of the White House isn't exactly comforting," Gonzales said.


Plouffe is credited with helping the Obama campaign reach out to voters in states that had gone in the past for Republicans.

White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod told ABC on Sunday that Plouffe brings "value added to our operation as we look forward, in terms of strategy and tactics. He'll be consulting with us on that, and we'll be stronger for it."

In a Washington Post op-ed over the weekend, Plouffe looked toward November.

"We still have much to do before November, and time is running short," he wrote. "Every race has unique characteristics, but there are a few general things that Democrats can do to strengthen our hand."

Plouffe listed his headline actions for Democrats: "Pass a meaningful health insurance reform package without delay, We need to show that we not just are focused on jobs but also create them, Make sure voters understand what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act did for the economy, Don't accept any lectures on spending, No bed-wetting, 'Change" is not just about policies, Run great campaigns."

He said that instead of fearing the 2010 outcome, Democrats should prove that they have "more than just the brains to govern -- that we have the guts to govern. Let's fight like hell."

"Let's remember why we won in 2008 and deliver on what we promised. If Democrats will show the country we can lead when it's hard, we may not have perfect election results, but November will be nothing like the nightmare that talking heads have forecast."

The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart said in a recent blog post that the "no bed-wetting" advice "should buck up the confidence of some wavering Democrats."

But Plouffe's message, Gonzales said, could be a sign the White House is asking some Democrats to become proverbial sacrificial lambs on health care reform.

"When Plouffe said in that op-ed that he knows the short-term politics of health care are bad, that means that they are essentially asking Democrats to sacrifice their seats in the short term in order for the president to have a longer-term political gain," he said. "I don't know that it's going to be a very popular stance with many Democratic members."

News of Plouffe's new role was met with praise from the man in charge of protecting and increasing the Democrats' majority in the Senate.

Asked whether the White House's decision to bring in Plouffe suggested that he had not done enough, Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said he welcomed Plouffe.

"We welcome the White House beefing up their political operation in a volatile political atmosphere," Menendez told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King on "State of the Union" on Sunday.

Plouffe, a married father of two, is a senior adviser at AKPD Message and Media, a Democratic consulting firm. He joined in 2000.

Recently, the American Association of Political Consultants awarded Plouffe the 2009 "Pollie Award" for campaign manager of the year.

His career has spanned two decades, beginning in 1990 when he worked on Sen. Tom Harkin's re-election campaign in Iowa. He later worked for the Iowa senator's unsuccessful 1992 presidential campaign.

He also has worked for successful candidates in Senate, House and state elections across the country.

Plouffe was former House Speaker Dick Gephardt's chief of staff. He later directed operations at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In 2000, he worked on Gephardt's failed presidential bid.

He found success eight years later, steering Obama to become the Democratic presidential candidate after a long and tough Democratic primary campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Plouffe did not join other Obama campaign staffers in the White House. Instead, he took time to write his 2009 book "The Audacity to Win," about the campaign. He credits technology with fundamentally changing the political climate.

"Big moments, political or otherwise, will no longer be remembered by people as times when everyone gathered around TVs to watch a speech, press conference or other event. Increasingly, most of us will recall firing up the computer, searching for a video and watching it at home or at the office -- or even on our cell phones," he wrote.

CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby contributed to this report.

 
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