Former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) is juggling several titles these days, but he is devoting a large chunk of his time to just one job — assisting Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in his quest to win the Democratic presidential nod.
Daschle, defeated for re-election in 2004 while serving as Minority Leader, endorsed the Illinois Senator in February.
Since that time, the one-time party leader has busied himself in the effort — both publicly and behind the scenes — serving as fundraiser, coalition builder, staff recruiter and traveling surrogate.
“He’s been an active surrogate on behalf of the campaign,” said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Daschle is one of about eight to 10 people in Obama’s kitchen cabinet of party elders and is serving as an unofficial counselor at large.
Just before Congress broke for the August recess, Obama was spotted having dinner in downtown Washington, D.C., with Daschle as well as with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), an early Obama supporter.
In a brief interview last week, Daschle called it “a real thrill” to have the opportunity to help Obama out. But he also modestly downplayed his role in the effort.
“I believe strongly in Barack Obama and am very excited about his candidacy,” he said. “I have offered to help in a number of ways. … I’m just one of the team.”
Daschle has served as a campaign surrogate in Iowa and New Hampshire, among other places, attending office openings, outreach meetings and press events. He’s also helped out with fundraising for Obama, whose campaign had raised close to $60 million through the end of June.
“I’ve talked to undecided people whose endorsement we’d like to have,” said Daschle, who is reaching out to Members of Congress on Obama’s behalf.
Daschle and Obama, who was elected in 2004, never served together in the Senate. And the former Leader stressed that his work on the Illinois Senator’s behalf should not be construed as campaigning against any of his former Senate colleagues who are also seeking the 2008 nod, something he said he would never do.
“I have extremely high regard for my former colleagues,” Daschle said. “I see this more as just supporting someone whose friendship I’ve treasured and whose candidacy has great merit.”
Daschle said that he will eagerly support any of the other Democrats, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), Joseph Biden (Del.) and ex-Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), if they are the party’s eventual nominee.
Among Daschle’s other job titles these days are special policy adviser at the law firm Alston & Bird, visiting professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University and distinguished senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
All told, Daschle estimates that around 25 of his former Senate and campaign staffers are now toiling on Obama’s team.
A few months ago, Daschle’s assistant at Alston & Bird, Nancy Hogan, went to Obama’s campaign to become Northeast regional political director.
Daschle’s close and obvious ties to Obama’s campaign were well-documented even before his endorsement earlier this year.
His former Senate chief of staff, Pete Rouse, became Obama’s chief of staff after he was elected in 2004, and his former campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, is a top strategist for Obama’s presidential campaign.
Obama is not the only presidential candidate to have help and support from former party leaders.
Former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) has endorsed Clinton and is serving as an economic adviser to her campaign. Also, former House Democratic Whip David Bonior (Mich.) is managing Edwards’ campaign.