For more than two decades, David Axelrod has run one of Chicago's most prolific political consulting firms, crafting campaign messages for some of the top Democrats in the city and nation.
But Axelrod will soon become even more of a one-client man than he has been of late, putting his share of the business up for sale and reducing his portfolio to just Barack Obama.
The president-elect on Wednesday named his longtime friend, strategist and political poet to the role of senior adviser in his future administration.
That elevates Axelrod to a status similar to Karl Rove in the George W. Bush administration, or political operative James Carville in Bill Clinton's White House.
After two years as the chief architect of Obama's campaign strategy, Axelrod will work to implement the ideas and policies he helped sell to American voters.
"I just want to help him be successful," Axelrod said Wednesday, between meetings with Obama in Chicago. "Part of that is making sure that we're communicating the right way with the American people."
Axelrod, 53, said he expects to play a similar role as the one he had in the campaign, working with Obama, speechwriters and the White House communications team to "tell the American people our story."
He has been telling stories his entire career. A New York native who landed at the University of Chicago, Axelrod hit it big in journalism as the youngest chief political writer ever named at the Chicago Tribune.
But he disliked what he saw as heavy-handed editors and second-guessing of his analysis. So he quit journalism and took a position in 1984 as a press secretary for Democrat Paul Simon's general election run for U.S. Senate in Illinois.
In 1985, he founded Axelrod & Associates, a firm now known as AKP&D Message and Media, and began to shape the political landscape in Chicago, Illinois and beyond, earning millions along the way.
From Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to presidential candidate John Edwards to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Axelrod has a long list of political clients and knows political reporters nationwide.
He was one of the few people mentioned by name in Obama's victory speech in Grant Park, after helping the candidate navigate the politics of race, tweak his message and provide some comic relief.
"You can't sketch a scene over the past four years that includes Barack Obama that doesn't include David," said Robert Gibbs, a top adviser who is expected to be named White House press secretary soon. "He's obviously been instrumental in our organization and in Barack Obama's success."
Gibbs said Obama and Axelrod get along so well, in part, because they are different.
"He gets amusement from some of David's quirks," said Gibbs, who was hired by Obama in 2004 for his U.S. Senate campaign after an Axelrod introduction. "But in the end, he greatly values his advice and counsel…David has been here the longest."
Axelrod traveled extensively with Obama throughout the campaign. When not on the road, the two men spoke by phone, often late in the evening. They have known each other since the early 1990s.
In the many campaigns he has worked on, Axelrod has lived by a few maxims, friends and associates say.
One of them is that, in an effort to score a daily point, his political team should never espouse a message that undermines its larger narrative.
"What Axe understands is that there is a need for authenticity," said Peter Giangreco, a Chicago political consultant who has worked alongside Axelrod for years. "It wasn't worth winning the day, if it undermined the larger message."
That is why his friends all expected Axelrod to give up his business if Obama won.
"It would be in keeping with his attitude, which is that you can't do things that are politically expedient if they undermine the larger thing," Giangreco said. "He's going into the White House. He doesn't want to have any outside entanglements."
Giangreco said in the cynical world of politics, Axelrod found someone he was willing to fully devote himself to.
"Axe can be as hard-edged and calculating and brilliant as any strategist in our party," he said. "What makes him different is that, in the end, he's an idealist. He really did want to have someone he could thoroughly and completely believe in."
Married to Susan Axelrod, a founder of the nonprofit Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, the couple has three grown children.
With homes in Chicago and Michigan, Axelrod said he plans to get an apartment in Washington and not spend the rest of his life there.
"I expect that I will be back in Chicago before too long," he said. "My family is here."
Axelrod said David Plouffe, a business partner who served as Obama's campaign manager, will remain at the firm, working from Washington. He said he expects his wife to stay in Chicago and they will have a commuter marriage.
"I'm heartbroken in many ways," Axelrod said of leaving Chicago and his business. "But I think, man, it's a privilege to have this opportunity."