Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why Obama Won - By Kelly Fero

The oldest campaign slogan in the book is, "It's time for a change." In 2008, it really was.

The president-to-be earned his victory by running a campaign of nearly flawless mechanics. He assembled a crack staff, honed a message that was both relevant and emotional, stuck to that message with admirable discipline, and worked hard to guarantee that his tone almost always matched the mood of the country. His ground game had genuine spark. He outraised and outspent the opposition. He adhered to his strategy of a state-by-state march toward 270 electoral votes with a great mix of confidence and flexibility, especially after Hillary Clinton revived her primary campaign with narrow wins in Texas and Ohio on March 4. He harnessed technology and targeting to tap into new voters where they live, not where media consultants say they live in order to rake in bigger commissions.

The next president won by capitalizing on an international yearning for an end to Washington's failed foreign policy. On the night of the election, President Christina Kirschner was speaking to an outdoor rally in Argentina and paused to announce that Obama had been elected; the crowd gave him a 20-minute standing ovation. While Obama was being hailed on his European tour last summer, a poll in Australia — a largely white nation and proud member of George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" — showed that Aussies favored Obama over John McCain by a 76-10 margin. In nation after nation, the hope for a man of the world in the Oval Office was palpable, and U.S. voters showed that sometimes what others think matters.

The President-elect won because in September, just as attention focused most fully on the race, the global financial system went into free-fall. Initially viewed as a little halting in his response, Obama benefited by comparison with the bizarre behavior of his opponent, who first declared the fundamentals of the collapsing economy "sound," then suspended his campaign to rush back to Washington but instead rushed into the arms of Katie Couric for a CBS News interview. Erratic, indeed.

In the end, every presidential election is about accomplishing two goals: taking away the voters' permission to vote for your opponent and granting them permission to vote for you as an acceptable alternative. After 22 months of coolheaded and evenhanded campaigning, Obama was the one left standing when the economic crisis hit during the third week of September. For all the rhetoric about "turning the page" and "leaving the old politics behind," he won by embodying the oldest campaign slogan in the book: "It's time for a change."

Do you agree or disagree with Kelly? Be sure to leave a comment!

An award-winning journalist and author who covered politics and civil wars from Central America to California, Kelly Fero has three decades of experience in developing political and public policy strategy at the state, national, and international levels. He is a recognized expert on how to create messages that communicate complex programs to the broadest possible audiences.

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