White House Chief of Staff William Daley predicted "a very tough and close election" in 2012, thanks to continuing "tough times for the American people" and a highly polarized electorate that has ricocheted between parties in elections since 2006.
Daley, a former Commerce secretary who rarely makes public remarks, was interviewed at the Washington Ideas Forum by CBS Chief White House Correspondent Norah O'Donnell in a wide-ranging conversation that addressed the president's upcoming reelection campaign, White House hopes for the economy and the president's jobs bill, and Ron Suskind's recent book.
"It's an extremely volatile political season right now," Daley said. A "mantra" among some Republicans of taking "a very hard-line position of 'no'" against the president since 2009 has helped foster that. "The president came to town to have a different voice, a less shrill voice," Daley said.
Asked which Republican contender the White House feared most as a presidential nominee in 2012, Daley quipped, "Christie" -- adding to laughter, "Is he not running?"
Daley declined to offer an opinion on Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, saying he had never met him. "Whoever the Republican Party nominates will be a formidable candidate because the nation is very divided," he said.
Daley also said he did not believe the nation was heading for renewed recession. "The expectation right now is that we won't have a double dip," he said. But he acknowledged that "the expectations of the first half of this year for a stronger second half and stronger '12 are not going to be fulfilled." That's why the president is pushing so hard for his jobs plan, he said.
Daley shrugged off allegations that the White House was a near-hostile work environment for women, as reported in Ron Suskind's book Confidence Men.
Observing that "since I'm not a woman, I can't tell you" what the White House was like for women, Daley said he had "not sensed any problem" and that senior staffers had "a great relationship."
"I heard that there were some issues early on with my predecessor," he quipped, referring to former White House chief of staff and now-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "He's probably watching this thing," Daley said.
Asked by an audience member about his best and worst day in the White House since joining the administration nine months ago, Daley said the Sunday that Osama bin Laden was killed was "the highlight" of his time there, thanks to the opportunity to be in the room with senior national security staff who had been working for 10 years to kill or capture the al-Qaida leader.
The day the debt ceiling negotiations fell apart, when "we were so close on a deal" and the U.S. economy was on the line, was the worst, he said.