Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why Obama Won – By Scott Simpson

Barack Obama will become President of the United States later this month having won the popular vote and Electoral College by significant margins. How did the same "center right" country that elected George W. Bush twice, and according to Karl Rove was on the cusp of a permanent Republican majority, vote so overwhelmingly for a black guy with a funny name who had been a measly state senator just 6 years prior? There were four factors that ultimately contributed to Obama's success:

Raw Talent: At his core, Barack Obama is a political savant with a unique perspective and understanding of American culture. While I believe that virtually any of the mainstream Democratic candidates probably could have won the general election in 2008, Obama's natural ability to comprehend the dynamics of both the primary and general electorate helped him beat both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Whether it was speeches after primary victories in Iowa, South Carolina and North Carolina and during Reverend Wrightgate, or his performance during the economic collapse, Obama seemed to naturally adjust the tone and tenor of his message to communicate exactly the right thing at the right time. One can argue that eight years of George W. Bush may have created the perfect storm for Obama's particular set of political skills, but like my tenth grade basketball coach told me, "If the talent's not there, the talent's not there."

A Near Perfectly Executed Campaign: Simply placing a talented individual into a situation does not guarantee success (See: Michael Jordan pre-Phil Jackson) the other players still need to do their part. While Obama should get credit for bringing in the right people and using his political talent to generate enough money to pay for the whole thing, all members involved in the Obama campaign team deserve high praise for execution. Both the primary and the general election offer vivid examples of just a damn well run campaign. By focusing on caucuses instead of big state primaries Team Obama derailed what many considered an unstoppable Clinton Machine. In the general election consider the differences between Obama's well orchestrated process for selecting Joe Biden, compared to McCain's dysfunctional process for picking Sara Palin which was more akin to a reality television show, which admittedly had a fascinating first episode, but ended up giving voters the same disgusted/freaked out feeling they got from Trashelle in the Real World Las Vegas.

Mo Money, Less Problems: Beyond execution, Obama's massive financial advantage obviously gave him an overwhelming advantage down the stretch —no one has ever suffered from a 2 to 1 advantage in paid media. In the late summer many voters were still unfamiliar and somewhat skeptical of Obama, but by early-October he had sealed the deal. The increase in Obama's favorable ratings in polling was quite dramatic and could have only been achieved by using television advertising to reinforce his best attributes. Television advertising makes up the bulk of the modern campaign budget, but having ample resources means you also don't have to skimp in other places. Obama's ground game was indeed well funded and well executed. Multiple phone calls, along with canvassing and thousands of volunteers drove supporters to the polls and may have made the difference in some close states

Friendly Democratic Map: George W. Bush may have made it easier for a Democrat to win in 2008, but there is no way to deny that the modern electoral math favors Democrats, a pattern that should continue for some time. In both of George W. Bush's victories in 2000 and 2004, one change in the Electoral College would have given the race to Al Gore or John Kerry. There are simply too many solid blue Democratic electoral votes in the modern map for Republicans to easily overcome. Much of this "new math" is due to the country's changing demographics. Republicans are simply not winning in states populated with any significant minority populations, outside of the Deep South. Additionally their success in the South may actually be alienating the party from white voters in other parts of the country.

The combination of a once in lifetime political talent, backed by a well financed, well executed campaign helped put Barack Obama over the top, and helped America say "Thanks, but no thanks," to John McCain and Sarah Palin. What should be heartening for Democrats however is that even in the year where our self destructive nature seemed to temporarily dissipate, the changing makeup of America has made it very difficult for the party of Jefferson to lose. While I won't get all Rovian and say that this is the beginning of a permanent majority for Democrats, it's going to take some serious changes in order for Republicans to regain control of the White House in the near future.

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

Scott Simpson is a political consultant at Hamilton Campaigns in Washington DC. He has experience as an analyst conducting focus group research and developing political software. He also has a particular interest in helping minority candidates win tough seats and helping clients understand the cultural differences and dynamics of minority communities.

1 comment:

V.O Key said...

I think this is the best one so far. Really smart.