CHICAGO— Robert Gibbs, who has worked with president-elect Barack Obama since his 2003 campaign for the U.S. Senate, will be press secretary in the Obama administration, according to reports at the Internet site Politico and elsewhere. Politico said Gibbs, 37, would be the “public face of the administration, its conduit to the media and… protector of the Obama brand.”
An Alabama native, Gibbs joined Obama’s Senate campaign after working on the early stages John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid, was it his side during the 2004 convention speech that brought him national attention and helped devise his Senate strategy. During the presidential campaign he was promoted to senior strategist after starting as communications director and was often the last person to talk to the candidate before he went on stage for speeches and debates..
“Robert has managed through the years to sort of find the perfect space for a flak,” says Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist who hired Gibbs at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2002 and for the Kerry campaign. “He knows where the sweet spot is between loyalty and exceedingly fierce advocacy for his boss and doing what he can to serve the needs of the press.”
Others noted Gibbs’ willingness to engage Obama’s critics in the media, pointing to a confrontation with Sean Hannity after the Fox host brought up Obama’s supposed relationship with 60s era radical William Ayers. Gibbs responded by asking whether Hannity was an anti-Semite because he had provided a platform to Andy Martin, who once referred to a judge as a “crooked, slimy Jew.”
At the same time, Gibbs had drawn criticism for restricting access to the candidate during the campaign.
According to the Politico report: “His relationship with the traveling press corps… was rocky at times. Gibbs has resisted requests for greater access to Obama, a move that frustrated the press and kept the candidate a distant figure to those who followed him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He recognized that a candidate such as Obama, a phenomenon before he even announced his bid, did not need to follow the usual campaign media blueprint.
“He challenges reporters with angry phone calls and curt e-mails… Other times, he just freezes out reporters.”
In addition, Obama made two key appointments to his transition team: Dan Pfeiffer as communications director and Stephanie Cutter as chief spokesperson.
Pfeiffer was most recently traveling press secretary for Obama during his presidential campaign. Earlier, he was communications director for Tim Johnson in 2002 and then deputy campaign manager for former Senator Tom Daschle in 2004. Following that race, he served as communications director for Sen. Evan Bayh’s putative presidential campaign.
Cutter, who worked as Senator John Kerry’s communications director in 2004, joined the Obama campaign in June as chief of staff to Michelle Obama.