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"Obama's road to the White House changed the dynamics of presidential campaigns forever"
One of the cornerstones of American democracy is that every four years a president is inaugurated on January 20 after having won the election the previous November. (Though recent events may have placed a crack in the cornerstone after the popular vote--the expressed will of the people--was thwarted by the United States Supreme Court, resulting in a selection, rather than an election, of the last president, thus giving a new meaning to the word "won.")
The election campaign of 2008 gave rise to many changes and many "firsts" in the history of presidential campaigns, notwithstanding it resulted in the most awesome "first"--the first Black man to have won the presidency. It was no small feat; it was a major accomplishment. How did he do it? His victory has reshaped the stereotypical, conventional thinking of most of the political pundits and has literally revolutionized how campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, will be conducted in the future.
As a presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama knew that in order for him to be successful, he had to run an unorthodox campaign. He used technology and the internet to the maximum, and ran the kind of campaign that most politicians talk about--a grassroots campaign. In addition to technology, Obama relied greatly on the experience he had learned as a community organizer working in the low-income areas of Southside Chicago.
Barack Obama was a relatively unknown senator from Illinois who announced in 2007, that he was running to be President of the United States. Most people believed that it would be a ceremonial candidacy and a brief "showpiece" campaign. They were clear-thinking individuals using history as a guide. The drawbacks were many. First and foremost, Senator Barack Obama was the only Black man in a field of about 16 candidates--14 of whom were White and one was Latino. Some were political veterans with high-profile names, "cushiony" endorsements and sizeable "war chests," many having previously ran for president. Secondly, he himself conceded, "I was the skinny kid with the funny name." Many people believed: who, in America, would vote for a Black man for president named "Barack Obama." Most people had never heard a name like that. It sounded foreign, difficult to spell and more difficult to pronounce, at first.
In addition, and most importantly, presidential campaigns historically took a lot of money and they depended heavily on financial contributions, especially from the rich and famous, which in turn, depended on high name recognition to attract those donors. Obama seemed like a goldfish swimming among sharks. Also, one of the candidates was a former first lady, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, whose husband had been a popular president. Now Obama was also "swimming upstream" among the sharks. But according to media reports, he was "cool." Despite the obvious and the hidden drawbacks, he had a plan which turned out to be masterful. Even many in the African American community were apprehensive of supporting Obama because experience had made Black folks feel that it was wasteful to vote for a Black man running to be the president of the U.S. So many of them went with the seemingly obvious choice--the former first lady whose husband was deeply wedded to the Black community, so much so, that he was called "the first Black president."
In order to raise lots of money, Obama mostly depended on small donations from average citizens through the internet and them; he built a base of grassroots donors and young volunteers. His mission was to involve young people who traditionally were disenchanted by politics and were considered undependable voters. He gave them an active role in his campaign and for that, he gained their loyalty and dependability. He went where seasoned politicians did not go or considered a waste of time.
Obama seemed ever optimistic and after he won the first caucus in Iowa--a lily White state--everyone began to take a second, and a third look. Many people, especially a lot of Black folks and political pundits, began to reassess their views on his campaign making the following statements: "maybe this guy could pull this thing off" or "he's in this thing for real" or "it ain't just a showpiece candidacy." The so-called "entitlement," inevitable candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton took a psychological bruising; her campaign seemed less invincible. The White House expressway now seemed seriously crowded.
What happened in Iowa sharpened Obama's focus on caucuses rather than on primaries; he saw validity caucus votes first and primaries second. According to campaign strategy reports, Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, was uniquely familiar with the dynamics of university campus life in Iowa and he mounted a large-scale effort to go after those students by zeroing on their campus residential habits. (Traditionally, most students voted where they live not where they go to school. Plouffe changed that behavior pattern and zoomed in on the students convincing them to vote from their campus address. And it worked.)
Next came "Super Tuesday," the day in February when the largest number of states holds their primaries (and caucuses). Usually that is when the front-runner is clearly delineated and the rest of the campaign becomes a mere formality. The leading candidate would then coast to the convention. That did not happen in the 2008 Democratic primary. Neither Obama nor Clinton became the clear winner. Both claimed victory and the contest continued. However, there was one stark difference--money.
Obama had lots of it left, and the small and now some big donations were pouring in. Clinton was "tapped out." Since she had run a traditional campaign, her strategy had estimated that after "Super Tuesday," she would focus on post-convention activities and be planning for the general election. Whereas, Clinton's donors had already given her the maximum amount ($2,300.) per person, Obama was returning to his small grassroots donors for a second, third and fourth donation. (One Obama donor stated that he had given the campaign a $20. contribution eight times. Some observers even claimed sarcastically that Obama was printing his own money).
Around the end of February moving into March, Obama won 11 consecutive states, extending his delegate count over Clinton by about 120. By then, he was focusing on the "delegate numbers." Obama surmised that regardless of Clinton's future performance in the primaries, if he kept up the pace with her, the delegate numbers favored him. And he was right because despite the fact that she made some impressive wins in the remaining large state--Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio--Clinton was unable to catch him and Obama proclaimed his victory after the last Democratic primary contests in South Dakota and Montana on June 3rd. Shortly afterwards, Clinton conceded and Obama prepared to accept his party's nomination in the national convention in Colorado in August.
Keeping in step with his overall use of technology, Obama communicated to his supporters via text message his choice for vice president. He chose Delaware Senator Joseph Biden.
They both accepted their party's nomination and Obama gave his acceptance speech at Invesco Field in Denver before a crowd of over 76,000 people.
It was now the time for the one-on-one political battle between Obama and the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona. They had three debates and in the end neither one scored a major victory. The difference would have to be made up elsewhere: either on the campaign trail, a major gaffe by one of the candidate or providing distinct solutions to prevailing problems including the ailing economy, the Iraq fiasco, healthcare, global warming and immigration.
When the economy took a nose-dive around September and McCain brazenly stated that he would suspend his campaign and return to Washington to help work things out, that became his Achilles heel. Just prior to that McCain had claimed the economy had a solid foundation. On the other hand, Obama continued his campaign saying that returning to Washington would not help the campaign, moreover he claimed, as president, one should be able to multi-task.
On Election Day as the polls closed and began reporting, McCain took the lead winning Kentucky with 21 electoral votes to Obama's win in Vermont securing only 3. But that was the only time that McCain took the lead. After a slew of states began reporting, Obama quickly took the lead and stayed there. By the time the polls in the West reported, Obama had surpassed the 270 needed to win. The eventual score was Obama: 365 electoral votes to McCain: 173.
Now most people can--not only spell and pronounce "Barack Obama"--but it has also become a household name around the world. In his victory speech, he said, "I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements." What started as a mild political breeze erupted into a perfect avalanche of historic proportion--Barack Hussein Obama had been elected the 44th President of the United States.
January 20, 2009, will go down in history not only as Inauguration Day; that happens every four years. That date has special meaning to the entire world because it was the day that a Black man officially became the President of the United States--a man who is the consummate African-American, an actual connection between the two continents. Obama's connection to the Motherland is not distantly ancestral or historical, nor is it emotional; it is a real, live presence. His father, Barack H. Obama, Sr. was an African (a Kenyan) and his grandmother, Sarah Hussein Obama, also a Kenyan, witnessed the inauguration of her grandson. His connection to Africa is not removed; it is present.