Stephanie Cutter knows what it’s like to campaign against a president with a great turnout operation. She also knows what it’s like to be blamed for losing to him.
It’s impossible to talk about Cutter’s political career without discussing what was arguably its lowest point: her role in Sen. John Kerry’s failed effort to oust President Bush in 2004. With less clout than the men who led that campaign—Bob Shrum and Tad Devine—Cutter caught more than her share of flak for the Kerry team’s communications weaknesses.
The criticism of Cutter got personal and, some say, disproportionate. Newsweek famously detailed Cutter’s abrasiveness with reporters and the vitriol her colleagues directed her way.
That was then. These days, you’re more likely to see Cutter sharply defending President Obama on CNN than pilloried in the press. As deputy campaign manager for the president, Cutter has become a prominent face—a dispenser of straight talk and sharp criticism of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“She’s sort of the designated lightning rod of this campaign,” said Sirius XM Radio host Julie Mason, a veteran White House and political reporter. Mason, who covered Cutter during the Kerry campaign, said that some of the 2004 portrayals of the spokeswoman were unfair. Cutter is “no-nonsense, tough as nails,” Mason said. “And, yeah, she can be abrasive—but how is that different from an effective male?”
As a public voice for the Obama campaign, Cutter has been unafraid to use strong language against Romney, particularly when it comes to his record at Bain Capital. Her fearless attitude has found a home on YouTube, where, in videos like “Get the Facts on Karl Rove’s B.S.,” she pushes back, point by point, against Republican attacks on the president. Obama backers eagerly share her videos and post comments cheering her on.
It’s a departure from the hope and change memes of 2008, but Cutter believes that going negative on Romney will help the Obama campaign more than going negative on the president will help the GOP. “We have a floor,” Cutter said, referring to the lowest point she thinks Obama’s head-to-head numbers can fall. “I don’t know if Romney has a floor. Our floor seems to be 48 percent or 49 percent. And all that [GOP] negative advertising hasn’t moved our numbers down.”
She has been with the president’s team since the beginning, when she shepherded Michelle Obama through the 2008 campaign. Cutter later served in the White House, shaping communications strategy on everything from health care reform to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
She graduated from Smith College in 1990 and has worked as a Democratic operative ever since. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts was her longtime political mentor; Cutter recently told Marie Claire magazine that Kennedy was her “anchor in the political world.” She has a degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and has taught at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. She is the founder of the Cutter Media Group.
Major Garrett and Caren Bohan contributed