As the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza first reported yesterday, Obama asked Plouffe to take an informal supervisory role over the Senate, House and governors races in 2010. What that means in reality is that Plouffe will assign consultants to lead a soup-to-nuts review of not only the DNC's own press/strategy shop -- a review already underway -- but will evaluate each campaign by a series of metrics and then decide whether the White House needs to use its influence to force changes, either in message or strategy or advertising or get-out-the-vote mechanics.
Here's the key: Plouffe doesn't report to David Axelrod, or Jim Messina, the deputy White House chief of staff; or to Jen O'Malley Dillon, the DNC executive director; or to Gov. Tim Kaine, the DNC chairman; or to Patrick Gaspard, the White House political director. He reports to the president. Informally. But this informal channel is Plouffe's and Plouffe's alone. Plouffe is the one who has the power to make the gears move more efficiently.
At the DNC, there is excitement on the Organizing for America side about Plouffe's expanded role. On the regular DNC side of the building, there is a bit of nervous energy, and a sense that the White House is taking over.
But Plouffe will not be at the DNC full time. Party operations will continue to run. Most of his focus will be external -- on the campaigns, rather than on reorganizing the DNC, which has a good and rapidly-responding press operation, a technologically advanced and up-to-date voter database, and -- let's face it -- a steaming pile of dead cabbage to serve to voters this year.
Plouffe is a real smart guy, but he'd be the first to tell you that he's not a genius on the rank of a Karl Rove or a Mark Penn. (Genius means a lot of things.) What he is is a calm, smart manager with the trust of the president. A person who can make sure that OFA/DNC do their best to facilitate a favorable campaign environment for the Democratic candidates in 2010, a person who can make sure that the White House, to the extent it is possible and appropriate, can devise a political strategy that the DNC can execute.
The White House is doing a bit of dog-whistling. Ears are perked among the Democratic base -- they went through the Obama campaign experience with Plouffe. And among the campaigns -- they know they need to make sure they've got good operations going, or the White House/DNC will flex its muscles -- and members of the DNC staff, who are put on notice that the president expects nothing less than their best efforts for 2010.