In Virginia, “there is a centrist electorate, including the business community, which does turn out,” Mook says. He links McAuliffe to two popular former Democratic governors and current U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, as well as to the current Republican governor, Bob McDonnell.
“We are capturing the more moderate brand of Warner, Kaine and McDonnell,” Mook says.
(The Democratic candidate supported, and the attorney general opposed, McDonnell’s key domestic initiative last year, a huge transportation measure with tax hikes. The governor’s popularity, however, is dropping amid serious ethical allegations.)
McAuliffe, strongly associated with the Clintons, isn’t running away from Obama. Michelle Obama campaigned for him last month.
And Mook is making extensive use of the vaunted Obama campaign machine: drawing on personnel, data, software and social media.
“Robby understands modern campaigns, the value of data and technology,” says David Plouffe, who directed the Obama campaign and is now a Bloomberg Television contributor.
Although they met in person for the first time only last year, Plouffe has vivid recollections of Mook. “He beat us three times; his footprint was on our back,” he says.
When he was only 28, Mook ran Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaigns in Nevada, Ohio and Indiana, all of which, Plouffe painfully remembers, were victories. “Our sense was he did the best job of anyone over there,” Plouffe says. “This is a guy with limitless potential.”
After the failed Clinton quest, he ran Jeanne Shaheen’s successful campaign to unseat John Sununu, the incumbent Republican senator in New Hampshire.
“He’s a very smart guy and I don’t think he has any enemies, which is hard in this state,” says Mike Vlacich, a longtime Shaheen adviser.
Last year, Mook directed the House Democrats’ campaign, gaining eight seats but not control of the chamber.
The young operative is a workaholic who hires top talent, empowers them, understands cutting-edge changes in politics, and revels in his craft.
“I love being thrown into a situation, putting together a team, getting a strategy and achieving something,” Mook says.
He also works unusually well with candidates. The garrulous and free-wheeling McAuliffe has been more disciplined this time, staying on message. Invariably, he brings any discussion back to jobs.
If it seems incongruous that a young guy named Robby Mook from Vermont might be the hottest U.S. political strategist, remember that a little over two decades ago even Bill Clinton wasn’t familiar with a “Ragin’ Cajun” named Carville.
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist.