European leaders got their first glimpse last week of a remarkable Illinois political figure who has drawn strength from his complex personal history, ideals from the legacy of John F Kennedy and hope from an improbable campaign for the US presidency.
They also met Barack Obama, with whom this softly spoken former Chicago Tribune political reporter has forged a personal and political bond that even foes concede has been at the heart of the first serious bid by an African-American for the highest office in the land. His name is David Axelrod. And while US law forced a rare brief separation from his candidate during the opening part of last week's high-profile overseas visit - Obama's stops in Iraq and Afghanistan were as part of a government-funded Congressional mission - he was very much back at his side for its European leg in Berlin, Paris and London.
With his bushy moustache and piercing, no-nonsense gaze, the 53-year-old journalist turned political consultant has been a central presence in the presidential campaign. No one in the inner circle of Obama's aides has known the junior senator for Illinois longer; they first met during a voter-registration drive in Chicago in 1992, five years before Obama first won public office, in the state legislature. No one is closer to him. No one, except Obama himself, has had a make-or-break voice in every strategy decision during his march from outsider to front runner in the race for the White House.
For Axelrod, for reasons political, professional but also deeply personal, guiding Obama to victory in November has become more than just a challenge. It is, say those who know him best, a 'crusade'. And it began not with Obama's formal declaration of his candidacy in front of Illinois's capitol building on a cold February day 18 months ago, but nearly five decades earlier in Axelrod's boyhood home of New York.
The year was 1960. Axelrod was five, as he would recall the experience to fellow reporters when he began work on the Tribune. He had been taken by his sister to a campaign rally, where he heard the stirring oratory of another young senator who had set off on a journey to the White House: John F Kennedy.