Barack Obama won the presidency and made history on a steady message of bringing change to a country that has been hungering for it.
The first black American to be elected US president, Obama ran a nearly flawless campaign and proved to be a cool customer under fire on the campaign trail and during three head-to-head debates with defeated Republican John McCain.
”It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America,” Obama told cheering supporters in Chicago after his victory.
He ran for president during the best possible conditions for a politician running against the incumbent party — a country saddled with two wars and teetering on the brink of a recession, including a Wall Street meltdown that amounted to an October surprise.
”He won because he was the Democratic nominee in a year that was just perfect for Democrats,” said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.
President George Bush was not on the ballot but it sure seemed like it.
Obama linked McCain to Bush at every turn, even though the two Republicans are not particularly fond of each other and McCain had broken with Bush on several important issues.
It did not matter. Obama had only to keep bringing up the fact that the Arizona senator had voted with Bush 90% of the time.
Obama was able to straddle the middle ground, managing to escape McCain’s attacks on his liberal voting record as a senator from Illinois, and raised vast sums of money for television advertisements that essentially turned him into an iconic figure.
”He ran a perfect, nearly gaffe-free campaign and he stayed on an absolutely pitch-perfect message,” said Democratic strategist Liz Chadderdon.
Bush’s popularity rating under 30% was a heavy drag on McCain. Despite an improving security picture in Bush’s Iraq war and a rapid response by the Bush administration to the financial crisis, Americans were ready to turn the page.
”Obama just pounded on this theme that we just can’t afford four more years,” said Democratic strategist Jim Duffy. ”I think Bush was a huge millstone.”
McCain (72) ran about as well as a Republican could have in a toxic environment for his party. He won large segments of the country but fell short in the battleground states that were decisive.
”We fought as hard as we could and though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours,” McCain told supporters at a Phoenix hotel. ”I wish the outcome was different, my friends. The road was a difficult one from the outset.”
McCain was riding a lead in the national polls in September until Wall Street began falling apart, exposing the weakness of the economy. His response was not as surefooted as Obama’s, and it cost him.
”The environment was loaded against him, and even with the toxic environment for Republicans, he made it very close until the financial meltdown. That’s what finally created the daylight between the two candidates that lasted until Election Day,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.
Some will question whether McCain should have chosen the inexperienced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate.
The news media’s vetting of Palin drew negative headlines for weeks and some conservatives were sharply critical of McCain’s selection of her over other more experienced Republican leaders.
McCain ignored the critics.
In his concession speech in Phoenix, he called Palin ”one of the best campaigners I’ve ever seen”, and an ”impressive new voice in our party for reform” — a statement likely to be fodder for speculation about the next presidential election — in 2012. – Reuters