Robert Gibbs recalls when Obama decided on a White House bid

Story highlights

  • Robert Gibbs served as press secretary for Obama
  • He recalls when Obama decided to run in the 2008 race

The Axe Files, featuring David Axelrod, is a podcast distributed by CNN and produced at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. The author works at the institute.

Chicago (CNN)Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs recalls the exact moment in late 2005 that then-Sen. Barack Obama, a newly elected senator from Illinois, began shifting his thinking about running for president in 2008 from an emphatic "no" to "maybe."

Gibbs, then Obama's Senate press secretary and de facto political aide, was about to turn down an invitation for Obama to speak at the annual Florida state Democratic dinner that December in order to give Obama a weekend off. The dinner, attended by thousands of activists in the ultimate swing state, is a traditional showcase for presidential candidates.
    "We had just finished the election cycle in 2005 and we had basically used him three weekends in a row away from his family. That was not popular (at home)," Gibbs told CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod on "The Axe Files" podcast, produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. "I remember him coming to me, asking, 'What do you think?' And I said, 'I think you need to spend some time in Illinois. I think you need to spend some time with your family. And we'll have plenty of time to go do this.'"
    "But he kept entertaining it," Gibbs said. "He kept coming back. 'What do you think? What do you think?' And I finally said, 'Well, what do you think?' He says, 'I think I want to do it. I knew at that point...he started to make that transition of thinking about [running for president]."
    During his conversation with Axelrod, an old campaign and White House colleague, Gibbs recalled the tough adjustment period Obama had once he finally entered the race in 2007.
    "He was performing pretty poorly on the stump," he recalled. So on a campaign flight to Iowa one day, Gibbs finally broached the subject with Obama.
    "So I said to Obama, 'Let's talk through this, let's work through this, let's figure it out.' And I remember I said, 'Are you having any fun?' And almost the second I finished the question, he just went, 'No, not at all. Not at all.' And you could see it on his face and you could see it in his body language."
    In the podcast, a reflection of Obama's journey, Gibbs described the process by which the campaign intervened and Obama found his groove.
    To hear the whole interview with Gibbs, which also touched on his childhood in Alabama, his experience working for Sen. Fritz Hollings, Obama's 2008 campaign, life in the White House briefing room, and more, click on To get "The Axe Files" podcast every week, subscribe at