Read Stephen's bio and previous columns
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.
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.”
why did the race have the result it did? Here are seven reasons:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the primary is finally over. And once the Hillary-as-veep
question is finally answered, we can at last move on to Obama vs.
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column #
Request permission to publish here.