Obama: David “Axe” Axelrod
David Axelrod has been at Obama’s side longer than anyone else in the inner circle. (This being Obama, it hasn’t been all that long.) The two first met when Obama was just out of Harvard Law and coordinating a voter-registration drive in Illinois in 1992. (After years as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune Axelrod had become a sought-after political consultant.) Over a decade later, “Axe” worked on Obama’s Senate campaign, and they've been together since. "Barack trusts David implicitly — they are genuine friends," Robert Gibbs, Obama's chief spokesman, has said."He understands Obama and has been his most influential counselor right from the start of his national political career," says Larry Sabato of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "I suspect that Axelrod is also the key person in Obama’s surprising decision to run in 2008." Now, as the senior strategist for Obama’s neck-and-neck presidential campaign, he’s thought of by some as one of the political world’s next masterminds, a liberal Karl Rove. “I'm a ‘genius’ now," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer recently, "but I was an idiot two months ago.”
McCain: Mark Salter
Mark Salter, McCain's speechwriter, co-author of his best-selling books, and a friend since 1988, is the man McCain says he trusts "more than anyone else in the world." "He and I are so close and so alike," McCain has said, "that he writes the way I think." Salter has etched the McCain Story into the mind of Americans, cultivated the aura of the Straight Talk Express, and helped position McCain, however successfully, as the Republican heir to the presidency. When the McCain campaign imploded this summer owing to lack of funds, other top advisers jumped ship, but Salter stayed on working pro bono — and talked McCain out of quitting the race. Through campaign shake-ups, losses, and bruised egos, the man described by Time as McCain's alter ego remains the senator's closest ally. "John's job is just to be himself," Salter told GQ last year. "And my job is to draw people to him for the same reasons I'm attracted to him."