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Business, Politics & Society

Keeping the Campaign on Track

David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Lesson time 17:22 min

David illustrates how to successfully emerge from the inevitable mistakes and negative attacks that happen during the course of any campaign.

David Axelrod and Karl Rove
Teach Campaign Strategy and Messaging
Renowned presidential campaign strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove reveal what goes into effective political strategy and messaging.
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Keeping a campaign on track is like driving a racing car-- not that I've ever done that, but what I imagine driving a racing car is like-- because you've got income and you've got events happening. And you want to make sure that your car stays on that track, that you continually are returning to that message, reminding people what the race is all about. And there are many, many distractions. You can react to your opponent's attack in a way that takes you off message or plays on their turf. You can react to a breaking news event or a revelation in the news media about your candidacy that takes you off track. So it takes real discipline and ingenuity to stay on track. In the 2008 general election campaign for president, things were going well for Obama. There was some momentum behind him. And we took a risk and we went to Europe. And we went to the Middle East. And we had a tour that was befitting someone who might become President of the United States that finished with this extraordinary event in Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate in the Tiergarten. And there were 250,000 people at that event. It was unheard of. Many of them holding up Obama signs and iconography and so on, posters, and our logo. It was an overwhelming kind of experience. But the McCain folks watching this knew they had no way to compete with this. And they decided to use jujitsu, which is a very legitimate technique in politics, and they talked about him being an international celebrity. They compared him to Paris Hilton, sort of implying that he was a celebrity without cause, and kind of used these sort of adoring crowds against us. And we got spooked by that. We got spooked by that, and we started pulling down our large events and doing smaller events. And then McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. And they started getting these enormous crowds. And we were still in our small event mode. And all of a sudden it looked like he had momentum. He had crowds. We were losing energy. And we made an adjustment. So there are all kinds of dynamics in campaigns that cause you to sometimes make miscalculations. And the demand is that you become aware of them as quickly as possible and readjust. It's really important to understand the character of your campaign and the nature of your candidate and the brand of your candidate. In 1984, when Paul Simon was running against Chuck Percy in Illinois, it was one of the marquee Senate races in the country. And it was a rock 'em, sock 'em race. And we were going at them. And they were going at us. And it culminated in a really acrimonious debate. And I'll always remember it, because Paul Simon had a hearing aid and so did Chuck Percy. And Paul didn't like Percy misrepresenting something he said. And he said, I'll make a deal with you, Chuck. I'll turn up my hearing aid if you turn up yours. It was just everybody like, ooh, groaned. And afterwards we thought, well, he held his own. I got a trackin...

What it takes to win elections

David Axelrod and Karl Rove reach across the aisle to offer an inside look at winning campaign strategies. The respective architects of Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s historic election victories teach how to develop a campaign platform and reach an audience with consistent messaging. Find the inspiration and tools to get involved at any level, or simply become a more informed, engaged citizen.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I loved the details, the nuances, the stories, the video examples of the spots they talked about. Congratulations for such a rich and interesting masterclass.

The class has given me an insight into US political campaigns.

I thoroughly enjoyed this Master-Class. As a person who is interested in being involved in political campaigns, I learned about the logistics that go into driving successful campaigns.

Early on in the course, I wanted more solid examples...and you both delivered. Thank you so much for the patriotic shot in the arm. You remind us all that we cannot fall asleep at the wheel. Democracy is worth getting off the couch for, regardless of party preference.


Bogdan I.

I paid $200 for 1 year of Masterclass and watched 18 episodes of this Masterclass just to take home with me one sentence: "I'd rather lose for principle then stand for nothing". I know is not much, but is good knowledge.

Thomas L.

This has been my favorite lesson by far. David's personal, detailed, and fair minded commentary and advice really had an impact on me. How to respond to a crisis is a lesson I've learned in my career, and I can't say I've always handled it well. It takes time to learn how to recover from a mistake or to navigate a problem and really be comfortable in that role. To see that played out on the national stage instead of the business stage must make it much more difficult. Great lesson and wise words!