Conservatives hire Obama election chief

Jim Messina’s hiring is seen as major coup for party ahead of 2015 election

The Conservative Party in Britain has scored a major coup by hiring the man who led US president Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 to play a key role in its bid to win the 2015 general election.

The hiring of Jim Messina, a life-long member of the Democratic Party in the US, caused major surprise in Westminster last evening, leaving some Labour Party figures despondent about their chances of unseating the Conservatives.

Mr Messina's speciality is his knowledge of social media, which played a not-insignificant role in Mr Obama's re-election campaign, though he was not unafraid either of plotting vicious, expensive TV ad campaigns to unsettle Mr Obama's opponent, Republican Mitt Romney.

The Obama 2012 campaign, shorn of much of the inspirational optimism of four years previously, depended much more heavily on the accumulation of voter information, along with quick-response routes to fend off Republican attacks.


'Homophobic TV ad'
In 2002, Mr Messina was blamed for producing a TV advert later described as "the most homophobic in history" that helped secure victory for Democrat Senator Max Baucus in Montana over Republican opponent Mike Taylor.

Using a 20-year-old video from Mr Taylor’s cosmetic business, it showed the Republican rubbing cream into another man’s face, while the accompanying voice-over declared: “Mike Taylor – not the way we do business in Montana.”

Last night, the Conservative Party said Mr Messina would remain in the US and report to the Conservatives’ senior management team.

In Westminster, the Conservatives, who have already hired the controversial Australian Lynton Crosby to be part of their election team, are being credited with having made earlier and better plans for the election that is now less than two years away.

In particular, Labour leader Ed Miliband is facing criticism for not immediately replacing Labour's election co-ordinator Tom Watson, who resigned in the row about the influence of the Unite union on the selection of Labour parliamentary candidates.

On Monday, Labour MP George Mudie described Mr Miliband's leadership as lacklustre, adding that even Labour MPs have little idea about the party's policies on welfare, education and health, never mind the British public.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times