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September 9, 2012 7:20 pm
When Barack Obama’s re-election campaign needed urgent damage control after Mitt Romney seized on the president’s awkwardly phrased remarks about business success being a collective effort, it wheeled out Stephanie Cutter.
When campaign surrogates went off-message last weekend and suggested Americans might not be better off today than four years ago, it wheeled out Stephanie Cutter.
And for a cutting post mortem of the Republican platform during last week’s Democratic national convention? Yes, Stephanie Cutter.
The blonde and telegenic Ms Cutter has become the Obama campaign’s top messenger and a trenchant defender of the president’s policies. Officially deputy campaign manager, she heads the campaign’s “truth team rapid response” unit, making it her job to go for the jugular, albeit with a notably familiar tone.
“It’s important that you guys know the truth,” she declares in one of the YouTube campaign videos in which she features. “We’re going to call their BS when we see it,” she says in another.
Ms Cutter was driving home that message this week at the Democratic national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. And now, with the conventions over and the general election campaign in full swing, American voters can expect to see a lot more of Mr Obama’s one-woman political combat unit.
“She is incredibly talented at delivering a message and she understands how to communicate in today’s political world better than most,” says Jim Messina, Mr Obama’s campaign manager.
The Romney campaign predictably takes a different view and has repeatedly accused Ms Cutter of lying about the facts in her rebuttals.
It lashed out at Ms Cutter last month after she denied knowing a steelworker who linked his wife’s death from cancer to Mr Romney’s Bain Capital in a controversial ad for a pro-Obama group. She had hosted a conference call with him in May.
“Americans deserve better than falsehoods and distortions – they deserve to know whether President Obama supports these despicable attacks,” Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman, said at the time.
Ms Cutter’s role at the centre of Mr Obama’s re-election effort is quite a comeback for the 42-year-old from Massachusetts, who previously worked in the Clinton White House and for Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, but was left for political dead after her role in John Kerry’s ill-fated presidential run in 2004.
As communications director on the Kerry campaign, she was widely blamed for many of its failures, including for failing to respond aggressively enough to the “swift boating” allegations about Mr Kerry’s Vietnam war record.
Some of this was fair, say people who worked with her at the time, and she is accused by some former colleagues of being a brusque micromanager. But her defenders also argue the latter criticism would not have been used against a man.
She clawed her way back from the ignominy that surrounded that defeat but was passed over for the role of communications director she wanted in the Obama administration.
But she has since carved out a niche for herself as a damage controller.
“She is someone who gets deployed into difficult situations to clean them up,” says Karen Finney, a former spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee who counts Ms Cutter as a friend.
After Mr Obama took office, Ms Cutter worked in the Treasury department to serve as Tim Geithner’s spokeswoman during the chaotic first days of the financial crisis. “Stephanie is tough and smart, with lots of drive and depth,” says Mr Geithner. “You want her in your corner.”
Republican candidate Mitt Romney takes on President Barack Obama in the race for the White House
She then moved to the White House to manage the communications around Mr Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, then played a pivotal role in selling Mr Obama’s healthcare reforms on Capitol Hill.
Former colleagues say Ms Cutter has good strategic vision and is relentlessly disciplined in her approach to getting out a message.
“She knows how to drive a message better than almost anyone out there,” says Jim Manley, a veteran of Democratic politics who worked with Ms Cutter on Capitol Hill. “Many people are great at putting together a plan but they don’t follow through on the execution. With Stephanie, there is hell to pay if you don’t follow through with your part of the plan.”
Ms Cutter is still renowned for being pugnacious. There has been chatter in Washington recently about friction between Ms Cutter and David Axelrod, the campaign’s top strategist, although insiders deny and problems and play down any disagreements as a normal part of any campaign.
The bottom line, associates say, is her loyalty to the campaign and its goals. Ms Cutter declined to comment for this article, but she outlined her worldview in a 2010 interview with Elle magazine.
“My philosophy,” she said, “is if you’re going to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for not a whole lot of money, why work for someone you’re not gonna be loyal to?”
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