The relationship between Barack Obama and Joe Biden grew so strained during the 2008 campaign, according to a new book, that the two rarely spoke and aides not only kept Biden off internal conference calls but refused to even tell him they existed.
Instead, a separate campaign call was regularly scheduled between the then-Delaware senator and two of Obama’s top campaign aides – “so that they could keep a tight rein on him,” write journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in “Game Change,” a long-awaited account of the 2008 campaign.
The book, based on over 300 interviews, reveals a series of previously undisclosed stories about the epic race. POLITICO obtained it Saturday at a Washington bookstore.
Of all the freshly revealed anecdotes, though, none may be as eye-opening as the previously-unknown friction between the president and vice-president – which on Saturday a Biden spokesman dismissed as “rumors.” The tensions began in September of 2008 word got back to Obama’s campaign headquarters that Biden had told reporters on his campaign plane that he was more qualified than his running mate to be president.
“A chill set in between Chicago and the Biden plane,” Halperin and Heilemann write in the book, to be released Monday. “Joe and Obama barely spoke by phone, rarely campaigned together.”
And when Obama campaign manager David Plouffe was asked about having Biden dial into the nightly campaign conference call, he responded: “Nah.” Instead, Biden had his own call with Plouffe and senior campaign adviser David Axelrod.
Obama himself was growing increasingly frustrated with his running mate after Biden let loose with a string of gaffes, including a statement that paying higher taxes amounted to patriotism and criticism of one of the campaign’s own ads poking fun at John McCain.
But when Biden, at an October fund-raiser in Seattle, famously predicted that Obama would be tested with an international crisis, the then-Illinois senator had had enough.
“How many times is Biden gonna say something stupid?” he demanded of his advisers on a conference call, a moment at which most people on the call said the candidate was as angry as they had ever heard him.
For his part, the authors write, Biden wasn’t pleased with the campaign’s direction.
After a prep session for a “Meet the Press” appearance following the Democratic convention, Biden was incredulous when he was briefed by campaign aides about the ticket’s tax policy. He told them: “Well, it’s your campaign. I’ll say what you want me to say. But after Election Day, all bets are off.”
Following his campaign plane braggadocio about being more qualified than the man who put him on the ticket, Biden’s access to the press was limited and he grilled new staffers that were assigned to him to try and determine if they were part of his team or loyal to Chicago.
When the ticketmates talked a few days after Biden’s prediction that Obama would be tested, Obama lit into his running mate. But Biden didn’t apologize – or even indicate he understood why his comments in Seattle were problematic, though McCain’s campaign had already cut an ad featuring the dark warning.
Speaking to his own staff, Biden insisted that it hadn’t really been a gaffe. And feeling a bit defensive, he invoked one of the worst memories of Obama’s primary campaign.
“I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t say anything about bitter people who cling to their guns and religion,” Biden cracked, the authors paraphrase.
Asked about the book, Biden spokesman Jay Carney said: "We aren't going to comment on rehashed rumors about the campaign. But I can say that if the authors were concerned with accuracy they might have checked their reporting with people on the Vice President's staff. They did not. I can also say that the President and Vice President have worked together very closely and successfully this past year."
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