This election has been historical for so many reasons. Barrack Obama was elected the first African-American President of the United States and it is the first election in which a woman appeared on a major party ticket as Vice President.
While Obama took the popular vote by a small margin, the electoral vote was won by a landslide (saying a great deal about the current demographics of the United States). The campaigns were hard-fought with vigorous use of new technology. The campaign was fraught with twists and turns and generated more excitement than any previous election since John F. Kennedy and in the long run, people will remember where they were and what they were doing when the first announcements came: “Barrack Obama is our new President Elect!”
Many Democrats expected and were hopeful that Clinton would be Obama’s choice for running mate. Instead, Obama chose Joe Biden (D-Del), one of his former rivals for the nomination, as his Vice President, initially creating a rift in the Democratic Party. John McCain on the Republican side surprised everyone by selecting a political unknown, Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, as his Vice Presidential running mate.
In the early weeks, Palin gave the boost and excitement needed desperately by the Republican Party. She was a new face, a woman’s face, and the split in the women’s vote became deeper. The general consensus by the media was that the party was sheltering Palin by not allowing interviews and as a result, Palin’s popularity was growing.
In the meantime, both Hillary and former President Bill Clinton took to the campaign trail, supporting Obama and trying to heal the divisions in the party. While more political notables hit the campaign trail in support of Obama, the Internet provided unprecedented contact with ground forces: soliciting donations, motivating supporters to talk to friends and neighbors and register voters. Blogs were flooding the internet in all of the social networks as well as political sites, most in support of Obama.
Then on September 5, the federal government seized the two largest mortgage-backing entities in the United States: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on September 5. Within 10 days, Lehman Brothers, a global investment bank for corporations, financial institutions and governments, declared bankruptcy. Merrill Lynch, a leading financial advisory group, dissolved and was incorporated into Bank of America. And American International Group (AIG) is seized by the government in anticipation of a financial crash on Wall Street.
September 23, Palin was given the green light by the party to interview with Katie Couric, the CBS new anchor. The interview was a disaster with Palin citing Alaska’s close proximity to Russia and the common land boundary to Canada as proof of her strength in foreign policy. She could not cite any specific time in which she brokered any treaties with any foreign government and with that, her popularity as a viable Vice President began to wane.
McCain, admitting in an interview the previous year with the Boston Globe admitted, "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should," suspended his campaign on September 24, put the first presidential debate (scheduled for September 26) on hold and flew to Washington to assist in the financial crisis. However, much of the public saw this as more an act of grandstanding than any real effort. Obama instead, appeared concerned but cool and calm, vowing to return to Washington “if needed.” The contrast between the candidates’ reactions gave the public an immediate, marked difference in each one’s approach. Obama insisted the debate should continue as scheduled, citing a president’s need to be able to manage more than one job at a time and the American public’s right to know about the candidates, especially during a crisis.
On September 25, both candidates met with President Bush and congressional leaders in Washington to discuss the financial issues at hand. On September 26, the day Washington Mutual, the largest savings and loan in the country was seized by the federal government, the presidential debate went on as previously scheduled.
In less than a month, the momentum behind the two campaigns began to change. Absentee and early voting opened in some states and Obama’s campaign raised $150 million during the month of September going forward into October.
October 2, Biden and Palin had their one and only debate. Biden, known for his volatile nature, remained calm although his facial expressions seemed to speak volumes in frustration and annoyance. Palin, almost a caricature in nature, publicly refused to answer questions asked by the moderator. Instead, she turned to the cameras, taking her party speech to “the American Public.” What may have been an attempt to overshadow Biden, instead seemed to make Palin appear that much more inexperienced and unknowledgeable in the issues at hand. Her “folksy” demeanor appealed to some viewers while others cringed at the thought of Palin taking center stage on the international political scene.
Polls by FoxNews, CNN and other sources began to show Obama leading the race averaging 49.3 with McCain trailing by only six points at 43.4. While the Dow Jones Industrials fell by 800 points before sharply recovering at day’s end on October 6, McCain’s campaign took a new, more negative route, accusing Obama of being pals with terrorists.
The second of the presidential debates took place as scheduled on October 7 in a town hall format, answering questions directly from the audience. During the course of the debate, Obama took the lead in debunking the allegations made in the Republican ad campaign and both McCain and Palin speeches. Depending what television station the public was watching, between FoxNews and CNN, who “won” the debate remained a toss-up.
In mid October, the investigation into the possible abuse of power by Palin in firing the Alaska Public Safety Commissioner cleared Palin of any wrongdoing but after stonewalling by the Republican party earlier in the campaign, the information seem to come too late to save the downward spiral for the McCain/Palin ticket. The third debate took place on October 15, and again, television stations reported different winning outcomes depending on their own point of view.
October 19 brought Colin Powell, former Secretary of State in the Bush administration, publicly endorsing Obama in an interview with Meet the Press. The Republican party dealt itself a blow when it then announced the expenditure of over $150,000 on Palin’s wardrobe; this served to debunk her position as the ordinary “hockey mom.” On October 23, a Republican campaign worker reported being assaulted by a black man because she did not support Obama. After the Republican candidates reached out to the victim, it was determined the whole story was mere fabrication. The Republican party was headed down fast.
By the end of October, the momentum had completely shifted and Obama and Democratic supporters began appearing in traditionally Republican states, hitting hard, unrelenting, and urging the public to cast their votes early. Polls were averaging 50.4% in Obama’s favor while McCain remained stagnant at 43.6%. Margins were difficult to assess; they ranged from 1% according to Gallup and 14% according to Pew Research. The Obama coffers were full with donations from the general public, and on October 29, his campaign struck another “first” with the purchase of a full 30-minute timeslot to appear on several networks. The spot included a live appearance by Obama at the end of the broadcast. The next day former Secretary of State in the Bush administration, Lawrence Eagleburger, attacked Palin for her lack of knowledge and experience in foreign affairs and although he recanted the very next day on FoxNews, his appearance did not appear very authentic and the damage had already been done. The month ended with former White House Chief of Staff, Ken Duberstein, endorsing Obama on October 31.
By November 2, approximately 27 million voters had already cast their ballot by absentee or early voting in 30 states and Democrats were outnumbering Republicans by a large margin. State officials across the country had already become concerned about voting machine operations on election day since voter turn-out was expected to reach “tsunami” proportions as reported in Politico. Voter turnout had already shattered records in several states in the primary alone.
The 2008 election saw the voter rolls surge by hundreds of thousands of people, many under the age of 25. In Colorado, the largest voting block changed entirely from Republican men in 2004 to Democratic women in 2008. And while voter turnout was expected to break the record from 2004, the shift in the way voters cast their ballots was not expected. With the longest ballot since 1912 when public petitions were first allowed, more than half of Colorado registered voters had already cast their ballot via mail-in or early voting polls. Voters stood in long lines ahead of time hoping to avoid the lines expected on November 4.
The election proved to be overwhelming in television viewing as well. According to the Nielsen ratings, more than 71 million viewers tuned in on Tuesday, November 4, with all of the major networks, cable and Spanish-speaking Telemundo.
Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois, had already opened its gates earlier in the evening and supporters literally ran across the part to get front row seats. The park filled rapidly as supporters waited patiently as the results began to trickle in. Tension rose as Obama took key states Pennsylvania and Ohio. At approximately 11:00 p.m., Fox, CNN and MSNBC announced Obama the winner, becoming the next President Elect of the United States. An unprecedented crowd of approximately 200,000 people erupted, without restraint, cheering for their candidate. Cameras panned the crowd and caught glimpses of people young and old, black and white, all ecstatic with the news. Oprah Winfrey, dubbed the most influential woman in America by several sources, had tears streaming down her cheeks, as did the Old Guard, Reverend Jesse Jackson. It was a night of firsts in an election of firsts in a campaign of firsts.
John McCain, breaking away from the previously negative campaigning, gave a very gracious and moving concession speech, quieting the boos of his supporters, pledging his support to the new President and asking supporters to do the same.
While waiting for the Obama family to appear in Grant Park for his acceptance speech, networks showed live coverage of cheering from other parts of the globe. In Kenya, Obama’s father’s birthplace, a national holiday was declared. Children and adults cheered in Jakarta, Indonesia, Obama’s one-time residence as a child. Parties created by spontaneous eruption showed throngs of people taking to the streets from New York to California, including an estimated 1000 people crowding Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House!
Back in Chicago, after being introduced as the next “First Family of the United States, Barrack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha walked onto the stage amid renewed cheers from the tremendous crowd. It took some time to calm the excited supporters and when he began to speak, Obama’s face took on a more somber reflection than seen in previous appearances. He looked like a man determined and ready to face the hurdles and challenges ahead. His speech began:
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
"It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.
"It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.”
Obama’s speech ended with:
“This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America."
The election of 2008 will go down in history as the dawn of a new day for the United States of America.”
Editor’s note: Laura Anderson is a professional freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Denver Urban Spectrum.