ALL IN THE FAMILY
Senior aides to Sen. Barack Obama and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick were aware that Obama’s aunt, Zeituni Onyango, was living in the United States illegally and in a South Boston public-housing project, and were monitoring her at the request of senior Obama campaign officials, according to a current employee for Obama’s key political consulting firm, AKP&D Message and Media.
Back in early 2007, as Obama’s chief campaign strategist David Axelrod was organizing and planning the Obama campaign, he identified Obama’s unique family situation — a number of half-brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, some living overseas — as a potential problem, says an employee for Axelrod’s political consulting firm, and who has done work on the Obama campaign. “Given [Obama’s] father’s family history here and in Africa, David wanted the campaign to know who was who, where they lived, and what they were doing. No surprises. We knew she was here illegally. We knew her income levels, but I don’t think anyone from the campaign had had contact with her.”
Instead, according to the source, Axelrod reached out to his former client, Patrick, who had retained Axelrod’s firm for his run for governor. Onyango was living in a state-funded housing project, “so Patrick’s people could just as easily keep track of things, and could do it without drawing a ton of attention,” says the AKP&D Message and Media employee, who requested anonymity as he hopes to get a job in an Obama administration should the candidate win. “If we had Obama people around, the media would probably have found her much sooner. She was in [Obama’s] book, it wasn’t like she couldn’t be found.” Indeed, that is exactly how the London Times found her.
While the South Boston housing project is managed by the Boston Housing Authority, it is a state-funded facility, according to the BHA press office, and so it would not be uncommon for state housing officials to be on the grounds or in the area. “Patrick was the go-between, he’s trusted by David and Senator Obama,” says the aide.
In fact, Patrick spent most of the past two or three days stumping for Obama up and down the East Coast. His and Obama’s relationship goes back a couple of decades, and the two actually represented ACORN together in a civil suit back in 1993. Some Republican political operatives believe that Patrick and his political team have been cutouts for un-reported cash distributed to ACORN officials around the country for Democrat “get out the vote” projects.
Some Obama aides believe that Obama was briefed at least twice by Axelrod or campaign manager David Plouffe on the status of family members. “We tracked who was talking to the press, we kept in touch with some of these people,” says an Obama campaign media aide. “Anyone who thinks we didn’t doesn’t understand just how nervous we were about all of these people, particularly the members of [Obama’s] father’s family. Axelrod had everything covered.” The aide said she was never present for such a briefing, but “we all knew the candidate’s family was being taken care of, to protect their privacy and try to contain any damage.”
The Obama campaign has denied knowing anything about Onyango’s illegal status or her poor financial situation.
Katon Dawson, chairman of South Carolina’s Republican Party, has been calling supporters around the country for the past several weeks seeking support for his candidacy as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Dawson, the owner of an auto-parts-supply company, has been calling GOP donors and fundraisers, among others, telling them he has lined up enough votes within the 168-member national committee to make him a prohibitive favorite for the job.
“He’s made it clear he doesn’t expect John McCain to win the presidency,” says one RNC fundraiser who has received such a call. “Katon’s an ambitious guy. He’s made no bones about the fact that he wants the RNC job.”
But no one takes seriously the notion that Dawson is anywhere close to having a large voting bloc of RNC votes. “There are too many others poised to get into the race,” says one RNC member. “We’re looking at between 10 to 15 potential candidates and maybe seven or eight of them already have constituencies on the committee. No one is in a position to call this thing over, particularly since our next president, John McCain, gets to pick the next chairman.”
That point is something that Dawson has seemingly overlooked, and his aggressive campaigning at a time when most Republicans are fighting hard to get McCain elected President has angered a number of Republicans because they understand why Dawson, who has been a local GOP chair in South Carolina, and won the state party job in 2002, is running: in part, to help jumpstart a presidential bid for the governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford.
According to one political consultant working in South Carolina, Sanford is prepared to move forward with a presidential exploratory committee soon, should McCain not win the presidency. The driving force behind by Dawson’s aggressive campaign, as well as Sanford’s rumored early toe-dip in the 2012 race, is said by some political observers in Columbia, SC, to be the first lady of South Carolina, Jenny Sanford, a former Wall Street senior executive at Lazard Freres, who ran her husband’s campaign.
“We all know Dawson is doing Sanford’s work, just like [Florida GOP chairman and another potential RNC candidate] Jim Greer is doing Charlie Crist‘s bidding,” says an RNC member. “By now we’re used to the campaigning by state party guys to help their state politicians who want to seek higher office. What we’re uncomfortable with is the way Dawson is doing this, the timing. It’s unbecoming and insulting to Senator McCain.”
Dawson was actually campaigning for the job during the Republican Convention, something that angered not only the McCain campaign, but other Republicans with longtime ties to the RNC. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, one of the more successful RNC chairmen in recent history, is said by some RNC insiders to be angry at Dawson’s aggressive campaigning.
“We still have a Presidential campaign to win, and this guy is running around acting like we’ve already lost,” says another RNC member. “McCain better win South Carolina by 10 points or else Mr. Dawson is going to have to answer for some things.”
Dawson is holding an event in mid-November in South Carolina to discuss the future of the Republican Party. He has been touting both former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as special guests at the event. Both are also expected to mount presidential runs themselves in 2012 should McCain lose tomorrow.
“You have some people, like Dawson and Romney, who have been acting like we’ve already lost the race, and are out there trying to feather their own nest,” says another RNC member. “That’s not going to make you many friends in the rank and file who have been working pretty hard the past three months.”
Gingrich is said by some to be seeking a role at the RNC, perhaps as a general chairman, a role last filled by Florida Sen. Mel Martinez. He has kept quiet about post-election plans, but he flirted with running for president late in the 2008 election cycle and is believed to be mapping out a bid for 2012 should McCain lose.