Q: Well, he's right, isn't he?

A: I think he's right about that, but it gets back to "this is how it is done," and he needed to make more concessions (to that) — and then he did. In the second and third debates he came out swinging. He told his team, "Look I'm not that good at debates. I blew the first debate. I will win the second and third debates and I will be re-elected." His confidence kicked in. He did what he so often does: He hit a three-point jump shot at the buzzer.

Q: That Samuel Jackson story in the book …

A: There was this viral video of Samuel L. Jackson going into a complacent family's house that hadn't been voting for Obama's re-election and Jackson tells them, "Wake the f--- up." And so the president said to Patrick Gaspard, one of his longtime associates, "I didn't realize he was talking to me!"

Q: Bill Clinton, a pretty savvy vote counter, wasn't so sure Obama would prevail in 2012.

A: After the election, Bill Clinton told Mitt Romney that before Hurricane Sandy, just days before the election, he thought Romney was going to win.

Q: Tell me about Obama's missing "schmooze gene," as you call it.

A: The need to schmooze is an abstraction for him. Because he himself is not needy, he's not trying to fill a hole in his soul like a lot of politicians who are glad-handers. He doesn't need those fake friends (such as members of Congress), so it's harder for him to understand why they need his attention.

Q: You go into minute detail about Obama's "Big Data" and the re-election team's tech, digital and analytics squad housed in the secret annex "cave" in the Prudential building. They just walloped the Republicans by micro targeting potential supporters, then using troops on the ground to get out the vote.

A: I call it the geek gap. The Republicans are trying very hard to close it.

Q: You write about "the new Chicago Machine." How does it differ from the old Chicago Machine?

A: This just utterly fascinated me because I grew up in Chicago and my late mother was a politician both with and without Machine support. The old Machine was very much about personal relationships. I can remember our precinct captain. I remember his name. And he would come over and say, "How are you doing" and did we need any help. That part of the Machine is gone — the one that had a direct connection to city jobs and to constituent favors. That part of the Machine that got out the vote and that used face-to-face and friend-to-friend contacts has been reassembled by Obama after a long absence. The connection between technology and shoe leather.

Q: The weekend before the election, you say, there were 700,000 Obama volunteers in battleground states knocking on more than 5 million doors.

A: Less than 24 hours before the voting, the Obama pollster Joel Benenson was confident that they'd win. Mayor Rahm Emanuel told him, "You better f------ be right," only half joking. "See these guys?" he said, pointing to his security detail. "If you're not f------ right they will hunt you down and bring you back to me and I'll f------ take care of you myself."

Q: Oh, that doesn't sound like Rahm at all, does it?

A: (Laughs)

Ellen Warren, a Chicago Tribune columnist and senior correspondent, is a member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame. She has covered politics in Chicago, Washington, D.C., across the country and around the world. She has written about elections at every level from county assessor to the president of the United States.

"The Center Holds"

By Jonathan Alter, Simon & Schuster, 428 pages, $30