The Obama Campaign 2008: A Historical Overview

By Simba, Malik | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

The Obama Campaign 2008: A Historical Overview


Simba, Malik, The Western Journal of Black Studies


Barack Obama's campaign for the 2008 Presidency is described by many political analysts as brilliant, remarkable, and almost flawless (frill, 2009). Despite his inexperience in national politics and limited experience in state politics (Obama was first elected to political office in 1994), he assembled a remarkably cohesive and effective "no drama" campaign team (Mendell, 2007), which in turn helped him craft and deliver his message of hope and change that ultimately resonated with the majority of American voters on election night, November 4, 2008.

The origins of this "improbable" campaign, to use Obama's words, can be traced to July 27, 2004. Obama was on his way to an easy victory in his campaign for the U.S. Senate from Illinois when he was invited to give the keynote address at the Democratic Convention in Boston. Many pundits refer to this speech as the one which placed Illinois State Senator Obama before the national electorate and where he established himself as a different type of Black American politician (Souza, 2008).

Obama described himself as a post-civil rights, multi-cultural "Horatio Alger" (Obama, 1995). He rejected the divisiveness of the left and the right that had marred American politics for decades and in his rhetoric embraced a singular United States of America while laying claim to the values of hope and change for a better America. That speech before millions of American television viewers generated a resounding outpouring of national support. Consequently, Obama toured the nation to introduce himself to the electorate, wrote a best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope (Obama, 2006) to extend that introduction, and in January 2007, organized a presidential campaign committee.

On February 10, 2007, Barack Obama announced his candidacy at the Old State Capitol Building in Springfield, Illinois. Obama gave an initial insight into his presidential campaign philosophy by making his announcement at the same place that Abraham Lincoln, in 1852, gave his "House Divided" speech (Green, 2003). Obama's "Yes We Can" speech called for a house united not divided. However, it took his surprise victory over frontrunner, New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton, in the Iowa caucuses, on January 3, nearly one year later, to persuade political observers that the junior Senator from Illinois was a serious contender for the Presidency. The Iowa win and later South Carolina primary victory on January 19, galvanized support from what was rapidly becoming his base: youth, Blacks, Hispanics, and the distressed White middle class, both rural and urban (Todd & Gawiser, 2009). As the campaign progressed, endorsements came from a diverse group of celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Maria Shriver, Senator Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, and many others.

Senator Obama's campaign was especially energized by thousands of youthful volunteers working hard under the slogan, "Fired up! Ready to Go!" (Ifill, 2009). With their support Obama won a string of primary and caucus victories beginning on Super Tuesday (February 5). By March 15 he had won primaries or caucuses in eleven states including Vermont, Wyoming, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oregon. With these wins, pledged delegates and super delegates began a slow but decisive move to endorse Senator Obama's candidacy. After the primaries in Montana and South Dakota, Obama had enough delegates to win the nomination of his party (Todd and Gawiser, 2009). Senator Clinton, recognizing this fait accompli, ended her candidacy on June 7th and endorsed Senator Obama for President..

Barack Obama's hard-won nomination after a six-month contest, where he was defeated in important primaries in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, rested on his ability to deflect and moderate political controversies. The controversy over Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, which surfaced in March 2008, was potentially the most damaging. …

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