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June 9, 2008

How Obama Did It


The marathon Democratic presidential primary, which seemed for so long like it would never end, finally did on Tuesday, when Sen. Barack Obama at last crossed the delegate threshold required for victory. Sen. Hillary Clinton, graciously but certainly belatedly, officially conceded Saturday, which allowed the general election campaign to finally begin.


In what may be the biggest upset in the history of presidential politics, a former First Lady and U.S. senator from the nation’s third-largest state, someone with nearly 100 percent name recognition, found herself defeated by a first-term U.S. senator who was toiling in the Illinois State Senate this time four years ago, is African-American, and sports both the middle name “Hussein” and a last name that rhymes with “Osama.”


So why did the race have the result it did? Here are seven reasons:


  1. Knowing your delegates. As pointed out in an Associated Press report by Stephen Ohlemacher early last week, the rookie Obama won the delegate math largely because he better understood the party’s system of proportionate delegate representation than the veteran Clinton. Even in states he lost, Obama was able to keep it closer and win delegates, which kept him close before his 11-contest winning streak in February and March.
  2. The February 5 strategy. The Clinton campaign’s strategy, according to various reports, was to wrap up the nomination by February 5, best known as Super Tuesday. When Obama fought her to a draw that day and prolonged the race, she was left with no strategy for the next two months of primaries, which Obama dominated.
  3. Mastering the new politics. Howard Dean and his team introduced the new Internet-based model of fundraising in 2004, and Obama’s campaign perfected it this year, with the added benefit of a candidate who didn’t self-destruct. Obama raised small amounts from many donors in order to run up a huge lead, which allowed him to easily out-raise Clinton, whose campaign employed a more 1990s-like operation.
  4. A clean break. Clinton knew voters wanted some change after eight years of Bush, while Obama went further in repudiating the status quo of politics itself, rather than merely the Republican version. From the start, Obama’s campaign was about the future rather than rehashing the disputes of the 1960s and 1990s.
  5. Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. In October 2002, congressional Republicans forced a vote on the ultimate wedge issue: Whether or not to authorize the war in Iraq. For fear of being labeled soft, every Democrat with presidential aspirations – including John Kerry, John Edwards and, yes, Hillary Clinton – voted yes. Obama, who was of course not in the Senate at the time, made no such vote, and thus opposed the war from the start, which couldn’t have hurt him among the vast majority of Democrats who now see that war’s folly.
  6. The identity politics game. In short, Clinton played it frequently and regularly, while Obama rarely did. Sure, race was ever-present in all discussions of the Illinois senator, but neither Obama nor any of his major surrogates ever came right out and said “elect him because he’s black.” Hillary’s campaign, especially towards the end, seemed to have little justification other than keeping alive the dream of a woman president.
  7. The new, worse, Hillary. With their behavior in this campaign, Bill and Hillary Clinton almost seemed as though they were seeking to prove wrong every liberal who had defended them from conservative attacks throughout the ‘90s. The nadir was the Michigan/Florida debacle, when the Clintons not only made a wholly indefensible legal and political argument, but compared the situation at various times to the civil rights movement, womens’ suffrage, Zimbabwe and just about every other historical calamity. Never mind that millions of voters are disenfranchised every primary season, usually because the campaign ends before they get a chance to vote.


So the primary is finally over. And once the Hillary-as-veep question is finally answered, we can at last move on to Obama vs. McCain.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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