"I've got a favour I want to ask," the President said."I'd like you to run the re-elect."Messina accepted, and swapped a deputy chief of staff's cramped White House office at the epicentre of Washington power for the sprawling campaign headquarters 700 miles away in Chicago, in a skyscraper overlooking Grant Park where Obama spoke on that unforgettable victory night in November 2008.
But they have a similar drive and relentless focus, two arch-pragmatists for whom the ends justify the means.Neither took no for an answer; neither was in the habit of putting off until tomorrow what could be done today.As Messina once described his modus operandi, "if the White House deputy chief of staff calls, you take his f****** phone call".The elder Bush had Lee Atwater; Bill Clinton had James Carville, and George W had Karl Rove. In fact, Messina's abiding sporting passion is the Grizzlies football team from his alma mater, the University of Montana.The early Obama White House, it was said, was a coterie of jocks.Jim Messina was in Hawaii, with a handful of other top Obama aides at the end of 2010, a few weeks after the Democrats had been put to the sword in the mid-terms.
Out in the surf one day, his boss made an offer he couldn't refuse.
He might have been one of Obama's most trusted lieutenants in Washington, but that December 2010 summons on Waikiki Beach made perfect sense.
Messina threw himself into the job with gusto, reading more than 100 accounts of presidential campaigns past.
In early 2011, as the Chicago HQ was being readied for business, Messina went on an extraordinary mission to learn the arts of modern management.
From the start, Messina realised that 2012 would be far tougher than 2008: not an idealistic national movement, but a state-by-state slog, in an America wearied and disenchanted, not least with Obama himself.
Running a presidential campaign (cost: $1bn upwards) was like running a huge corporation, Messina reasoned.