How he did it

Twelve months after the US Presidential Election, President Obama’s victory is the subject of numerous documentaries and books, and the fodder of new 21st century political theory. Kelvin Odoobo traces the unprecedented path from the Chicago dreamer, to the leader of “the free world”.

Twelve months after the US Presidential Election, President Obama’s victory is the subject of numerous documentaries and books, and the fodder of new 21st century political theory. Kelvin Odoobo traces the unprecedented path from the Chicago dreamer, to the leader of “the free world”.

The path to Barrack Obama’s presidential election victory will be a case study, for many future political generations for its ability to overturn the political campaign formbook and rewrite the history of American politics.
The Dream

Apart from his rhetorical skills, the lanky man with big ears, salt and pepper hair and a calm and magnetic personality had a knack for knowing to strike when the metal was still hot.

After the midterm congressional elections in 2006, Obama and his fellow big dreamers knew that the voter disenchantment with republican politics or “politics as usual” was ripe ground for him to attempt a historic run for president.

He hungered to apply his valuable experience as a community organizer, to conduct a unique bottom-up political campaign that depended on communities and a volunteer army of committed ground soldiers, other than the usual traditional apparatchik-style big party politics.

When his now brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, was asked by his sister, Michelle to vet him on the basketball court before he could date him, Obama thought that, “he would at one time stand for public office.”

Team Obama

The candidate marshaled together an impressive team of brilliant men and women. Among the leading lights was David Plouffe, Obama’s meticulous campaign manager who is credited for crafting the primary campaign that nailed Hillary Clinton.

During his acceptance speech, Obama said that “the unsung hero of this campaign, who built the…best political campaign, I think, in the history of the United States of America.” David Axelrod, his close friend, now a senior adviser to the president was the chief political strategist of Team Obama.

He was credited with crafting the change message, and molding it in the grassroots enthusiasm, internet and viral media campaign that resulted in the behemoth internet fundraising machine that dwarfed the traditional big donor Clinton and republican finances.

Robert Gibbs was the candidate’s advocate-in-chief in the media, who won himself the title of the enforcer, because he would engage the press, and make them see the point whenever they reported negatively, round the clock and making sure that the message was shaped correctly.

For all his efforts, Gibbs is now the press secretary for President Obama. There is Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director who is the white house deputy communications director.

From Democratic Party to Obama Party

Even though Obama was the only black senator, and had already cemented his fast rising reputation at the John Kerry nomination convention in 2004, when he announced his interest in running for president in 2006, he was considered a relative outsider, a factor that eventually worked in his favor.

Among the political heavyweights in the party who he came against were senator John Edwards, John Kerry’s running mate in 2004, Senator Joe Biden, who later dropped out of the race but made a comeback as Obama’s running mate and now Vice President and Senator Hillary Clinton, wife to president Bill Clinton and Obama’s toughest opponent in the drawn out primary season contest, now Obama’s Secretary of State.

For a long time, it was a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton was a front runner because of his husband’s political standing in the Democratic Party, its donors and his popularity among ordinary Americans.

In fact the Clinton campaign assumed that by the Super Tuesday contests in February, she would have wrapped up the nomination only for Obama grassroots campaign to prove more than an ordinary bump in the skin.

After the surprising Super Tuesday tie, Obama’s financial muscle and well organized assault on caucuses slowly eroded the chances of a Clinton nomination, even though she fought on till the last primaries in early June.

On June 3, Obama crossed the threshold after a flurry of super delegates declaring their endorsements for him to effectively end Clinton’s hopes, and draw to a close the longest primary season in American history.

Obama had succeeded in defeating the Democratic Party campaign machine before turning it into his own.

McCain’s Mistakes

Unlike in the Democratic Party, the republicans had put their house in order by March 4th 2008, when Arizona Senator John McCain, a former Vietnam pilot and prisoner of war, became the presumptive nominee.

As opposed to the then popular opinion, Sen. McCain did not utilize efficiently his few months on his rivals to establish himself.

The contracted battle between his potential rivals did not help matters, because it captured the imagination of the world and took away valuable media airtime from McCain.

Up to when Obama came out tops in the democratic race, McCain seemed to be unable to convert the easy victory he had obtained in the republican race, into a coherent pursuit for the main race.

As Obama’s team went into the last lap of the long perilous journey, the money taps flowing abundantly, the world watching and urging Americans to make history, the McCain campaign began to lurch from one message to another, and seemed to be undecided on whether to unleash the traditional hate campaign against Obama that had worked wonderfully in the last two campaigns.

In the presidential campaign where McCain’s presumptive advantage of political experience was supposed to be let loose on the relative Jonny-come-lately into American politics, his opponents No-drama-Obama cool worked so against McCain’s old age cockiness and clear distaste for “that one”, (as McCain referred to Obama in one of the televised presidential debates), his younger rival.

The choice of Governor Sarah Palin, which for a while riveted the republican establishment, soon fell apart as she turned out to be as inexperienced as they had painted Obama to be. Obama’s new found lead in the opinion over McCain became regular and it was clear now that McCain had the fight of his life in his hands.


By the time Obama took a break from the campaign to conduct a rather too successful international tour, it was clear who was chasing the other.

A celebrity attack advert that compared Obama to Britney Spears, lived long enough to worry a few people before it fell flat on the face of its ill-minded creators.

Hurricane Gustav turned up just when the republicans were aiming to make the most of a party convention, enough not to wreck like Katrina, but good enough to wreck McCain’s nomination party.

The effects of the credit crunch became clearer and like an irrational soldier, McCain acted rashly and tried to portray himself as a patriot by suspending his campaign to join the bail out talks in Washington, only to successfully ruin them.

The focus of the election suddenly shifted from foreign policy which McCain was tried and tested  and which Obama had shown signs of mastering, to the economy where McCain was woeful, once declaring that ‘The fundamentals of the economy are strong,” even when it was clear that America was headed for a recession, with the collapse of Lehman brothers. Obama was clearly on the home stretch, but kept on pleading with voters not to put down their guard.

McCain continued to play the relentless fighter, even as his own campaign disintegrated in his own republican backyards. Early voting trends indicated a massive shift from red to blue and Team Obama could smell the finishing line.

Obama, unknown to the public, had begun to build his administration in secret, interviewing candidates for security and other important positions weeks before November 4th.

It was dejavu as Obama left the campaign trail days before the election to visit his ailing grandmother, who soon departed from this earth, just before his grandson achieved the greatest milestone of all; the first African-American to become president of the United States of America.