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Emerging Clinton campaign draws heavily from Obama alumni

While the two camps fought a bitter war of attrition against each other seven years ago, Hillary Clinton's emerging campaign team is drawn largely from the
Hillary Clinton at a League of Conservation Voters event in New York on Dec 1, 2014. (Photo by Damon Winter/The New York Times/Redux)
Hillary Clinton at a League of Conservation Voters event in New York on Dec 1, 2014.

While the two camps fought a bitter war of attrition against each other seven years ago, Hillary Clinton appears to be assembling a senior campaign team that draws heavily from the one that helped Barack Obama defeat her in 2008.

She may still be weeks or months away from making anything official, but the former secretary of state is quietly assembling a team of top-notch Democratic operatives for an increasingly likely 2016 presidential bid.

Obama pollster Joel Benenson will take the lead strategic role as Clinton’s chief strategist, while Obama ad guru Jim Margolis will be Clinton’s paid media advisor, according to the Washington Post. Benenson and Margolis both served Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. 

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Pollsters John Anzalone and David Binder, who also worked for Obama, will also be involved, the paper reported. Benenson, a former political journalist, served as communications director for late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo’s 1994 reelection campaign before a long career in polling for both political and corporate clients.

Margolis’ ties to the Clintons date back at least to 1992, when his firm produced ads for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. More recently, he’s worked Obama and top-tier Senate candidates, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. No word on whether Mandy Grunwald, Clinton’s longtime advertising guru, will be involved.

“Fresh blood seems to be the organizational theme as Sec. Clinton gears up a potential bid,” former Obama spokesperson Ben LaBolt, who went on to found the public relations firm Incite Agency with fellow Obama vets, told msnbc. “It's smart to bring in strategists that outmaneuvered her team the last time around.  She should also seek out new faces who may have nothing to do with politics but are at the cutting edge of how information consumption has changed - that was essential to both of President Obamas victories.”

Obama alumni have already been active in archipelago of super PACs that have been laying the groundwork for a Clinton presidential run for over the previous year, and former Obama aide Tommy Vietor helped Clinton handle press requests during the roll out of her book this year. Jim Messina, who managed Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, is already at the helm of Priorities USA, the big money super PAC that has pledged allegiance to Clinton’s campaign.

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David Axelrod, Obama top strategist, tweeted Wednesday that Clinton's emerging campaign team is "strong sign that '16 will be a better, stronger operation" for Clinton than 2008. 

Meanwhile, Democratic uber-operative John Podesta has said he will leave the White House not long after President Obama’s upcoming State of the Union Address, and the Wall Street Journal confirmed Tuesday that he will take a senior role in Clinton’s campaign.

Podesta, who served as chief of staff to Bill Clinton in the late 1990s, founded the Center for American Progress in the 2000s, and then joined the Obama White House in 2013, is expected to be the campaign’s chairman. A marathon runner, Podesta is known as a quiet and disciplined manager who can effectively quash the kind of interpersonal drama that often emerges among the large egos on heated presidential campaigns. He has deep ties in both Clinton and Obama's worlds, also serving as chairman of Obama's presidential transition operation. 

And as previously reported by Politico, Robby Mook is expected to oversee day-to-day operations as campaign manager. Mook, a young rising star in the political operative class, successfully managed the Virginia gubernatorial campaign of close Clinton friend Terry Mcauliffe and helped Clinton notch surprising wins in key states over Obama in the 2008 primary.

Marlon Marshall, Mook’s Clinton campaign deputy, is expected to play a role in field operations, along his colleagues at 270 Strategies Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird. Stewart and Bird, who have been working with the pro-Clinton Ready for Hillary super PAC for months, are often credited with Obama's critical win over Clinton in the 2008 Iowa Caucus, among many other victories.

A big remaining piece of the puzzle is Clintons communications team, a critical piece for a politician who has sometimes had rocky relations with the press. Jennifer Palmieri, a former spokesperson for John Edwards and the White House’s current communications director, is said to be in the mix, along former Sen. Chuck Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon, now at the Department of Justice, according to the New York Times. Palmieri worked for Podesta at the Center for American Progress as well.

As with all Clinton staffing reports, nothing is confirmed, jobs could change, and Clinton could still decide not to run. Most of the potential hires did not respond to requests from msnbc Wednesday, and those that did neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

Meanwhile, many many more positions remain to be filled.