2008 United States presidential election

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The United States of America held its 55th quadrennial presidential election on November 4, 2008. The Democratic Party ticket of presidential candidate Barack Obama and vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden defeated the Republican Party ticket of Senator John McCain of Arizona and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin by winning 365 electoral college votes to 173.

The myriad rules pertaining to a U.S. federal election can become complicated, as they are set at various levels by the Constitution, the Congress, the 50 individual states (and in the primaries, other entities), and the two main political parties. The 2008 contest was long and expensive; the contenders by the end of May had already spent some $900 million seeking the party nomination, with Republican (GOP) contenders spending far less than the Democrats, whose nomination battle lasted into June 2008. The Democratic Party ticket was Senator Barack Obama of Illinois (U.S. state), with Senator Joe Biden as his vice-presidential running mate. The Republican Party ticket was Senator John McCain of Arizona, with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as vice-presidential pick. Both parties officially named their tickets at their national conventions: in late August in Denver, Colorado, for the Democrats and in early September in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota for the Republicans.

Democratic Party

Senator Obama , the first African-American candidate, defeated the first strong female contender, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, and a host of contenders who dropped out earlier. Obama won fewer delegates in 37 contested primaries (1362 to 1374), ran behind in the controversial states of Florida and Michigan (63 to 87) but scored big leads in the caucus states (332 to 179), and clinched his win by carrying the superdelegates.[1]

The Democratic primary campaign was by far the longest, most expensive, nastiest, and closest in American history. In terms of the popular vote--depending on how it's counted--it was a virtual draw. One tabulation had Obama at 18,107,710 (48.1%) and Clinton at 18,046,007 (47.9%).[2] Clinton started with wide leads in the polls, but Obama caught up, and ended by a lead of about 9 points in polls of Democrats, 51% to 42%. At all times Obama had a large and growing financial advantage, as he raised over million dollars a day, every day, double Clinton's rate. In May and June primaries, Obama won big in the North Carolina (U.S. state), Oregon and Montana primaries, lost heavily in West Virginia, Kentucky, Puerto Rico and South Dakota ; Indiana was a virtual tie with a small Clinton lead. They faced off in the inconclusive "Tsunami Tuesday" primaries in 21 states on Feb. 5, and the popular vote was almost exactly 50%-50%. However Obama won the next eleven contests in a row and gained the momentum that finally proved too much for Clinton to overcome.

Repeatedly the Clinton campaign was on the verge of collapse, but she came back with stunning wins in New Hampshire in January, California (U.S. state) and Massachusetts in February, Texas and Ohio in March, and Pennsylvania in April. She was unable to keep up the pace in May and June, as she was heavily outspent and her treasury was empty; indeed Clinton reached the point of loaning herself over $1 million a week, while Obama's fundraising took in unprecedented sums from over 1.5 million of contributors, many of them using the internet.

Despite his financial advantage Obama grew weaker every week after March 1, winning fewer popular votes than Clinton in closing weeks. He did poorly in large states, and among Clinton's core supporters of women, the poor, the less educated, the elderly, Catholics and Hispanics. Obama's coalition comprised blacks, upscale voters, youth, and secular voters, and it held solid, but he slipped steadily among independents who will probably be decisive in November. Especially in the close states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, working class white Democrats rejected Obama by increasingly large margins. Upwards of a third of Clinton supporters said they would not vote for Obama in the fall; thus in Kentucky, a majority of Democratic primary voters indicated they would not vote for Obama in November.

The final decisive ingredient was the decision by the unelected "superdelegates" who comprise 18% of the convention delegates to support Obama. They are 796 lawmakers, governors and state and local party officials who, since a rules change in 1982, automatically become delegates and can vote any way they wish. By May 29, Clinton had support from 283 superdelegates and Obama had 321; On June 4, Clinton had 282 and Obama had 415 and a clear majority of delegates. [3]

Serious confusion surrounded the delegations from Michigan and Florida, which deliberately moved up their primaries and thus broke the National Committee rules. Neither candidate campaigned in either state, but primaries were held and Clinton won them and demanded those delegates. Democrats in Florida, especially, were embittered by being shut out of the convention. A compromise was finally reached on May 31, that cut the delegations in half but gave the advantage to Clinton; Clinton was given 87 delegates and Obama 63. It was too little, too late to help Clinton.

ABC News concluded in mid February that by all objective measures, Obama had become the Democratic frontrunner: he has more money, momentum, enthusiasm, and delegates. "Obama had his most impressive night of the competition, not just in the size of his victory margins but in the breadth of support he attracted from men and women, young voters and old, African Americans and whites," concluded Dan Balz and Tim Craig in The Washington Post. "The results left Clinton, the one-time front-runner for the Democratic nomination, in a deep hole....Obama's winning streak, his large margins and the prospect of more victories next week put Clinton in a tenuous position, despite the close delegate competition."[4]

Barack Obama

For more information, see: Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2008.

Barack Obama, Senator from Illinois since 2005, presented himself as a post-racial, post-partisan contender of universal appeal, promising to end the old politics and bring the country together in bipartisan fashion. He appealed strongly to youth and stresses his early opposition to the war in Iraq. Making "change" his central campaign theme and downplaying race, Obama, a charismatic speaker, argues "We can't afford to settle for the same old politics." In late 2007 he repeatedly attacked Clinton for her 2002 vote supporting war against Iraq, and for her ties to lobbies and old-fashioned politics.[5] Clinton responded by hammering away at Obama's inexperience and charged he substituted rhetoric for action. Bill Clinton, noting that Obama and his wife recorded similar voting records in the Senate, snapped that Obama was engaging in a "fairy tale" regarding Iraq, a point of ridicule that bothered Black leaders and increased racial polarization among Democrats.[6]

Obama raised $103 million in 2007 and spent $85 million, and raised a record setting $32 million in January 2008. In terms of his Senate voting, he moved 15 places to the left in 2007, ranking as the most-liberal member of the U.S. Senate. In 2006, he had been the 16th-most-liberal senator.[7] Obama's popularity is strongest among younger and better educated voters. He dominated African American support, which comprises about 20% of the Democratic primary vote nationwide, and 30-50% in the deep South, notably as South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. However Clinton's husband Bill Clinton has long been popular in the black community and she received many high profile endorsements.

2008 began with Clinton enjoying a big lead nationally, but Obama scored a stunning victory on January 3, in the Iowa caucuses, defeating Clinton and John Edwards by 8 points. [8] With Obama seizing the momentum and attracting youthful voters, pundits and pollsters agreed he was heading to a landslide win in the New Hampshire, the first primary state. But Clinton surprised everyone (even her own staff) by winning the primary 39% to 37% for Obama and 17% for Edwards. Obama did best among men, younger voters, independents, and college graduates, while Clinton won by wide margins among women, poorer voters, union members, registered Democrats and older voters--that is, her voter profile resembled the historic New Deal Coalition.[9] Clinton again outpolled Obama in the Nevada caucuses, but Obama refused to concede because he claimed one more delegate than she. With John Edwards trailing far behind, the Democratic contest focused on Obama and Clinton. In a bruising battle in South Carolina on Jan. 26, Obama, with strong black support, won decisively. Clinton remains ahead in nationwide polls and in most states on Tsunami Tuesday. The campaign turned rough in mid-January, as Obama began to link the two Clintons:

"He [Bill Clinton] continues to make statements that are not supported by the facts — whether it's about my record of opposition to the war in Iraq or our approach to organizing in Las Vegas. This has become a habit, and one of the things that we're gonna have to do is to directly confront Bill Clinton when he's making statements that are not factually accurate."[10]

Obama won a landslide in the South Carolina primary by sweeping 78% of the blacks vote and 25% of the whites, giving him 55% overall to 27% for Clinton and 18% for Edwards. Analysts point out that the upshot may be that Obama is typecast as the "black candidate" with a weak appeal to Hispanics as the contest heads to states where blacks comprise less than 25% of the primary voters. As political scientist Larry Sabato noted, "A few carefully chosen words and framing angles [by the Clintons] have transformed Obama from the post-racial, post-partisan contender of universal appeal into a more typical African-American candidate, who is much less intrinsically attractive to whites and Hispanics." On Tsunami Tuesday the outcome was a virtual tie in terms of votes and delegates. [11]

After Tsunami Tuesday, Obama won 11 straight contests, carrying major states like Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin by landslides, and reducing Clinton's once formidable coalition to a narrow lead among white women and Latinos. She rebuilt her coalition in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, equalizing the race in early March. Meanwhile Obama was embarrassed when a top foreign policy advisor resigned after calling Clinton a monster, when attention focused on an Obama business partner and fundraiser on trial in Chicago on criminal charges, and the diplomatic episode in which Obama's top economic advisor told Canadian officials that Obama's attacks on the NAFTA trade agreement represented campaign rhetoric.

(PD) Photo: Jarod Perkioniemi / U.S. Army
Obama greeting members of the armed forces in Kuwait before they set off for Afghanistan.

Even sharper attacks were directed at the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Chicago, who was Obama's minister and spiritual advisor for 20 years. Obama opponents circulated videos of Wright's hardline attacks, including the statement "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human," in reference to U.S. race relations. Obama in mid-March disavowed Wright, but his long-time association with Wright proved a major campaign issue for Clinton. Polls in March showed him significantly damaged by the Wright connection, losing support among the independents who formed a critical part of his base. Republican strategists predicted that Wright's angry sermons, in which the minister blame American foreign policy for the 9/11 attack and criticized Israel, could represent a powerful weapon against Obama in the fall. In a major speech on March 18 Obama repudiated Wright but attributed his anger to lingering racism in America; Obama conceded that he knew Wright "to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy" and that he had heard controversial remarks in church. Wright himself went on national television to repeat his rhetoric and criticize Obama, forcing Obama to decisively repudiate Wright. In late May another preacher at the same church ridiculed Clinton to a cheering congregation, and Obama officially resigned from the church. About half of North Carolina Democrats said the Wright issue mattered to them, and they voted decisively for Senator Clinton. After the Wright affair McCain pulled slightly ahead of Obama among unaffiliated voters. McCain enjoyed unified support from Republican voters while Obama only attracted 65% of Democratic votes at that time.[12] At a deeper level, Obama had trouble reaching white working class Democrats, who voted heavily against him in April and May primaries, and who told pollsters they may vote for McCain in the fall or just stay home.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton, the Senator from New York, and the wife of popular former president Bill Clinton, hoped to use her experience and the strength of her organization to win the nomination. Clinton had been a highly successful fundraiser. For calendar years 2001 through 2006 her total receipts were $51.6 million, with spending of $40.8 million.[13] Clinton's best financed opponent was Barack Obama.

Frank Luntz, the doyen of American campaign pollsters, observed in early December, 2007,

"Among Democrats, Obama has the momentum, but Clinton has the organization. Obama has been drawing the crowds and creating the buzz, but he has to turn curiosity into votes. But Clinton has one of the most formidable political organizations ever assembled. They play with broad shoulders and sharp elbows. They take no prisoners and accept no criticism. It's going to be quite a battle."[14]

In 2007, Hillary Clinton led all the polls as first choice of Democrats, with especially strong support from women. In 2007, she raised $118 million for her campaign, 15% more than her opponent Illinois Senator Barack Obama. In terms of her Senate voting, Clinton moved 16 places to the left in 2007, ranking as the 16th-most-liberal senator. In 2006, she had been the 32nd-most-liberal senator.[15]

Obama's attacks on her focused at first on her 2002 vote in support of the war in Iraq, which he opposed, By late 2007 Obama broadened his rhetoric by attacking her as the representative of the old politics, with Obama proclaiming himself the agent of change. In response, Clinton underscored Obama's inexperience, emphasizing the contrast between his vague promises of change and her long, concrete record of fighting for real change, a difference her campaign calls "talk versus action."[16]

Obama scored an unexpected win on January 3, in the Iowa caucuses, defeating Clinton and John Edwards by 8 points. With Obama seizing the momentum and attracting youthful voters, he appeared to be heading towards a win in New Hampshire, the first primary state, but Clinton won the primary 39% to 37% for Obama and 17% for Edwards. Clinton won by wide margins among women, poorer voters, union members, registered Democrats and older voters--that is, a profile that resembled the historic New Deal Coalition.[17] With John Edwards trailing far behind and Bill Richardson dropping out, the Democratic contest focused on Obama and Clinton. Clinton defeated Obama in the Nevada caucus on Jan. 19; Obama won decisively in the South Carolina primary on Jan. 26, 2008.

Clinton, whose husband was especially popular in the black community, tried to capture a quarter of the black vote in the face of Obama's popularity as the strongest black candidate ever to run for president. Blacks comprise about 20% of the vote in the Democratic primary. When Clinton equated Lyndon B. Johnson with Martin Luther King in the passage of civil rights laws, and Bill Clinton called Obama's views on Iraq a "fairy tale", Black leaders expressed concern at a subtle racist tone.[18] After a few days Obama and Clinton called a truce on the race issue, but Clinton's share of the black vote kept falling, dropping to a mere 10% in Pennsylvania; however she wins majorities among whites; in Pennsylvania she carried white men by 57%-43%, and white women by 68%-32%.

Clinton won an easy victory in the Florida primary, where no one campaigned, but the delegates had been suspended by the National Committee. Top contributors were dismayed to discover the financial mismanagement of her campaign; it spent over $105 million, much of it on luxuries, yet kept slipping. In January, when Obama was gaining rapidly, Clinton spent millions on consultants for advice that failed her, while Obama was outraising her by 2:1. [19]

After the virtual tie on Tsunami Tuesday, analysts warned that Clinton faces an uphill fight. Obama is much better funded, outpacing her 2-1 in January, when he brought in $32 million to her $17 million. Obama swept all 11 contests after Feb. 5, winning major states such as Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin by increasing landslides, and cutting deeply into Clinton's coalition. Clinton's campaign leaders agree that Texas and Ohio are her last stand. Bill Clinton told audiences there, "If she wins Texas and Ohio I think she will be the nominee. If you don't deliver for her, I don't think she can be. It's all on you."[20] Clinton mobilized her coalition, winning Texas by 100,000 and carrying Ohio by a landslide.

By mid-March, analysts concluded that Clinton's chances to win the nomination in the face of Obama's growing lead in delegates were narrowing and her hopes rested on success in three criteria. First was the need to win decisively in Pennsylvania primary in April, allowing her to claim 9 of the 10 largest states in an argument that will impress superdelegates. She did win, but the superdelegates remained quiet. Second she has to come close in the popular vote in the primaries, but by May 7 is now 710,000 behind in official primaries, 50% to 47%. Even adding in Florida and Michigan leaves her 88.000 votes behind. Only six small states have yet to vote.[21] Her efforts to schedule re-do primaries in Michigan and Florida have failed. Some compromise will have to be reached to avoid alienating Democrats in those states, but even if Clinton is awarded a few more delegates than Obama it will not close the delegate gap or the vote-count gap. Finally she has to exploit some new issue that will shake Obama's standing among superdelegates. Her supporters believe that the uproar regarding anti-American rhetoric of Obama's long-time spiritual advisor the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. might be the breakthrough issue she needs, but with heightened racial tensions inside the Democratic party, the race card has to be played carefully. After a 6-week campaign in which Clinton was outspent 2:1 by Obama, she scored a smashing 9-point victory in Pennsylvania, keeping her chances alive a little longer. Democratic leaders by May 7 could no longer see a path that would give her the nomination and many advised Clinton to step aside lest she damage the party and her own future possibilities as a candidate in 2012 or 2016. However she continued to fight on, however hopeless it may be. Her labor backers from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the American Federation of Teachers and the International Association of Machinists continue the fight. Clinton seriously damaged her standing in the party when she started talking about the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968, as Black Democrats repeatedly express fears that Obama will be assassinated. After the last primary, Clinton withdrew on June 7, and endorsed Obama.[22]

Republican Party

As President Bush was constitutionally ineligible to seek another term and Vice President Dick Cheney had announced that he would not seek the Republican presidential nomination, the Republican field was wide open for the nomination. In 2007, various politicians began exploratory committees, fundraising efforts, and other preliminary activities to determine if they had the support they needed to run. By September 2007, the leaders were former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Arizona Senator John McCain, who dropped sharply from his leading position after endorsing immigration reform.

Arkansas (U.S. state) Governor Mike Huckabee entered as a dark horse but shot to the top rank in December 2007, and won the Iowa caucus. His base is primarily evangelical Christians, who are about 35% of the GOP vote, but he does quite poorly among other segments of the Republican party. By mid-January 2008 Thompson and Giuliani were doing poorly, and both dropped out in late January. Romney dropped out after a poor showing in the February 5th primaries.

Minor candidates who entered but dropped out are Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, former Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, and California (U.S. state) Representative Duncan Hunter. Other candidates who considered running who did not enter include former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, and former New York Governor George Pataki.

Every prediction and game plan was shattered in November, when Mike Huckabee, a little known former governor of Arkansas, shot to the top of the polls and won in Iowa. His base comprises evangelical Christians, who comprise 35% of national GOP voters. Evangelicals comprise 48%-68% of Republicans in the South and border states, 47% in Iowa, and only 11% in New Hampshire. They are 33% in Michigan, 29% in Florida, 27% in California and 14% in New York.[23]

The Republicans gave victory to Arizona Senator John McCain in most of the primaries, and national leaders have rallied to his cause. He gained a majority of delegates on March 4, and his opponents have dropped out and endorsed him. The right wing of the party, led by radio talk show hosts, was angry with McCain, who has been a maverick and appeals especially to moderates and independents, and even to many Democrats as well, but seemed in April to be more accepting oh its candidacy. On Tsunami Tuesday McCain polled 41% to 31% for Mitt Romney and 21% for Mike Huckabee. Romney sought the support of the most conservative Republicans, but shared that base with Huckabee, who was strongest among evangelicals. Romney won 273 delegates but dropped out of the race on Feb. 7 and later endorsed McCain.[24]

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had been making preparations for the possibility of becoming an independent candidate. As a multi-billionaire he has the capacity to finance his own campaign without outside contributions or federal matching funds. In March he announced he would not run.

This election selected the 44th President of the United States of America and the 47th Vice President.[25] Their terms will begin Jan. 20, 2009.

Zogby polls early July. States for McCain in Red (160 electoral votes); states for Obama in Blue (273 electoral votes); Too close to call in Purple (105 electoral votes); 270 needed to win in November general election

Polls in early July 2008 (see map) showed a competitive November election with Obama about 5 points ahead of McCain, as both solidified support among partisans and Obama outpolled McCain among independents.[26] State-by-state results suggest a very close contest in the fall, with the key battleground states likely to be Iowa (7 electoral votes), Michigan (17), New Mexico (5), Pennsylvania (21) and Wisconsin (10), which leaned Democratic in May; the four toss-up states of Colorado (9), Nevada (5), New Hampshire (4), and Ohio (20); and the three states that leaned to McCain in May: Florida (27), Missouri (11), and Virginia (13). Although the presidential race looks close, analysts expect the Democrats to make major gains in Senate and House races.[27] With only a few days to go before the election, the polls still pointed towards a win for Obama.

John McCain

Arizona Senator John McCain in 2000 defeated George W. Bush in the New Hampshire and other primaries, but Bush came back to easily win the nomination, and then went on to win the very close election. McCain stands for civic duty and traditional conservative positions, especially regarding lower spending, lower taxes, opposition to abortion, and a strong foreign policy. Some conservatives complain about his longtime advocacy of campaign finance reforms that would weaken the power of special interest groups, saying they violate the First Amendment freedom of speech. Other conservatives object to his opposition to Bush's tax cuts in 2001, although McCain now supports their renewal.[28]

A former Navy flier who was shot down in the Vietnam War and spent over five years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, McCain has been a prominent voice on military and foreign affairs. He is especially outspoken in demanding forceful action in the Iraq war, and claims credit for the "surge" underway in 2007-8 under General David Petraeus. Despite being a hawk on Iraq, McCain was certainly considered significantly less supportive of the goals of social conservatives and the religious right wing of the Republican party. During his 2000 presidential bid, he had called the religious right leaders Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance", and a "corrupting influence" on American politics. Overcoming this political hurdle would prove difficult for Senator McCain.

McCain was the frontrunner for the 2008 presidential nomination according to the polls when his campaign imploded in summer 2007. He had spent all his money, direction was lacking, his staff was in turmoil, and most had to be terminated. McCain's standing fell sharply in the polls because of the unpopularity of his hardline Iraq position and his proposed bill (in cooperation with Bush and Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy) that would open a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Commentators wrote his obituary. But McCain fought back, using his drastically reduced funds to concentrate on a highly personal town-by-town "retail politics" campaign in the first primary state, New Hampshire. His main opponent Mitt Romney lost in the Iowa caucuses in early January, 2008, giving McCain momentum in New Hampshire. As supporters chanted "Mac is Back!" he defeated Romney 37%-32%, with Mike Huckabee trailing at 11%.[29]

With his wins in South Carolina and Florida, and his wide lead in polls, McCain emerged not only as the front-runner but as the favorite of the party establishments. He has far more newspaper endorsements than his opponents, and more endorsements from leading party officials who stress his electability. His decisive victory in Florida came in a closed primary where only registered Republicans could vote. Nevertheless, some conservative talk-show hosts, who are outside the GOP organization, vehemently oppose him because of his independence on numerous issues.[30] McCain's success on Tsunami Tuesday, especially in such major states as California, New York, Illinois and New Jersey, forced Romney out of the race. McCain now has six months to unify his party before the formal nomination at the national convention in early September. Analysts question whether his very strong appeal to independents and conservative Democrats might not be neutralized by losses among very conservative Republicans who threaten to stay at home. As soon as Obama wrapped up the Democratic nomination on June 3, McCain started to blast him using Clintonian themes of experience vs. inexperience, in a bid for angry Clinton voters, while Obama countered that electing McCain was like giving Bush a third term.

Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City (1993-2001), was the GOP front-runner for most of 2007. Downplaying his moderate views on abortion, gun control and immigration, he emphasized his heroic leadership of New York City in the 9/11 attack, his cutting crime in New York, and his hard-line against terrorism. Although he campaigned vigorously, he could not shake off charges of corruption and he lost most of his support in the last two months of 2007. He won only 3.5% of voters in Iowa; 8.5% in New Hampshire; 2.8% in Michigan; 4.3% in Nevada and 2.1% in South Carolina. Pulling out of other states, he concentrated all his efforts in a losing battle for Florida, where he ran third with a mere 15%. Analysts noted the more voters saw of Giuliani, the fewer supported him.[31]

After Giuliani's poor showing in Florida, he withdrew from the race and endorsed John McCain.[32] Giuliani's strategy was to concentrate on the winner-take-all primary in Florida, which would deliver more delegates to the winner than all the previous races combined; however, the strategy failed, as national media reports concentrated on the candidates campaigning in the earlier primary races.

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee, little known nationally through mid 2007, climbed the polls steadily and won the closely watched Iowa caucus on Jan. 3, 2008. His political base comprises evangelical Christians, who comprise 35% of the GOP voters nationwide.[33] He has been attacked as a tax-and-spend liberal, especially by rival Fred Thompson.[34]. His funding base is meager, but national polls put him at 19%, compared to 20% for Romney and 26% for the leader John McCain. Analysts point to his evangelical base, his conservatism, his appeal to southerners and his winsome personality as critical factors in his move from obscurity to the top rank of political contenders. [35]

Analysts say his inability to broaden his base beyond evangelicals is his biggest weakness when it comes to winning primaries, together with his weak financial base.[36]

Huckabee perfected the shoestring operation. He raised only $2.3 million by Oct. 2007, less than 5% of the money of each main rival. He never had enough money to send advance teams to organize events or drum up crowds, nor could he afford fund-raising operations, private polls, big-name political consultants, or a staff of policy advisers and media experts. He relied on volunteers from churches and the home-school movement to schedule his events. His daughter is his national campaign manager. The retail politics of the first states did not cost much. He won in Iowa by relying on his quick wit, fluent oratory, and in lieu of commercials, as many TV and radio talk-show appearances as he could schedule. To draw crowds his rallies featured actor Chuck Norris and his own playing the bass guitar with local rock bands. As the election calendar turned to larger states he lacked the cash to compete, so in late Jan. 2008 he cut back on Florida operations to concentrate on a few smaller, overlooked southern states on Feb. 5. He did well there and although he knows he has no chance of winning the presidential nomination, the vice presidential slot is open. Huckabee continues to campaign and thus has a voice in party affairs and as a national spokesman for conservative and evangelical causes. McCain realizes that he gets far more publicity by winning a contested primary than an uncontested one, and has not tried to push Huckabee out of the race.[37]

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney, a businessman who came to national attention rescuing the scandal-ridden 2002 Olympics, served a term as governor of Massachusetts (2002-2006), with a moderate record that included fee increases (but not tax increases), a balanced budget, and the nation's first universal healthcare program. He supported abortion and gay rights. As a presidential candidate Romney sought the support of the business community and social conservatives. He reversed moderate positions on abortion and gay rights to take a hardline conservative position on them, and on opposition to illegal immigrants. Opponents charged he changed too often. Romney has been a leader in fund-raising, augmented by over $35 million from his own fortune. He has sponsored by far the greatest number of TV commercials of any candidate. However he was little known outside of Massachusetts, so his strategy was to play for early wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, then "sling-shot" the momentum into national visibility. After leading in both states the tide turned suddenly and he lost to Mike Huckabee in Iowa and John McCain in New Hampshire, while picking up some uncontested delegates in Wyoming. ("Two silvers and a gold," his spinmeisters announced.) Romney changed strategy and began denouncing Washington, emphasizing his business skills, and promising large-scale federal help to the troubled Michigan economy, where the domestic auto companies have been doing very poorly. He avoided oblivion by a decisive win by 9 points over McCain in the Michigan GOP primary on Jan 15, along with a less-noticed win over Ron Paul in the lightly contested Nevada caucuses. Religion was at issue for evangelicals who saw Mormonism an undesirable cult; Romney, a prominent Mormon and former bishop, spoke in Texas on the need for religious tolerance. While his religion generally hurt his vote totals, it was a boon for him in Nevada, where polls showed one-fourth of the GOP caucus electorate was Mormon, and Romney won better than 90 percent of those voters; likewise it helped him sweep the Utah primary. Romney outspent the field on TV ads in South Carolina and Florida. When he discovered he was doing poorly he pulled his advertising out of South Carolina and concentrated on Nevada, where the main contenders did not appear. Romney came in fourth place in South Carolina. He was defeated by McCain in Florida, 36% to 31%, ceding the momentum to McCain. Analysts say his personal wealth, should he choose to spend it, is enough to carry him through the primaries, but they rate him a distinct underdog who would have a hard time overcoming McCain's big lead in delegates.[38]

On Tsunami Tuesday Romney did well in caucus states, where his high-spending organizational efforts paid off amidst very low turnout. However, he did poorly in the primary states, notably California, where his $10 million advertising blitz was pushed aside by McCain, who ran only a few radio ads. The main base of the GOP is the South, but Romney ran a weak third in the region, as Huckabee captured the evangelical vote. The Romney campaign underwent repeated transformations, with new themes and new campaign slogans, new ads and new message strategies designed to reach the conservatives who listen to talk radio. One after another Romney sought an identity as the candidate of true fiscal, social and national security conservatism. He has portrayed himself as Mr Efficiency--as the corporate executive candidate who understands the economy "in my DNA." He then attacked illegal immigrants, an issue that had little traction.[39] His last transformation came in February, with his claims to be the candidate of change, who will defeat the Washington insiders and elites, whom he links to McCain. On Tsunami Tuesday, Time magazine reports, his rhetoric took on a previously unseen, almost Trotskyite tenor: "It's time for the politicians to leave Washington and for we, the people, to take over!"[40]

After spending $110 million, much of it from his own fortune, Romney closed his campaign two days after his disappointing showing on Tsunami Tuesday; he endorsed McCain as commentators discussed his chances for a return effort in 2012.

The candidates in primaries and caucuses


Obama scored a surprise win in the Jan 3, Iowa caucuses, 9 points ahead of Edwards, who was slightly ahead of Clinton. He immediately gained so much momentum that many observers though the Clinton campaign was in danger of collapsing.

Republican Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, (and former Baptist minister), made a strong appeal to the religious conservatives. His base of support is "born again" evangelical Christians, who comprise 35% of national GOP voters and 47% of the GOP voters in Iowa. Years as a TV announcer gave him a polished yet informal campaign persona that no other candidate could match. Outspent by Romney 10-1, Huckabee nevertheless scored a major upset in the Iowa caucuses, coming in first and beating Romney by 9 points.

Voter behavior

Clinton did well among voters over 50, liberals, and both the lowest and highest income groups. Obama, who won decisively, held huge leads among voters under 35. He also did best among those who are "very liberal" and those earning lower middle income ($35,000-$50,000). Edwards did best among men, those earning $75,000-$100,000, and 30-49 year olds.

The GOP pre-caucus polls in Iowa showed Huckabee at 29% and Romney at 28%, trailed by McCain at 11%. Huckabee led among 30-64 year olds, among "very conservative" Republicans, those earning $50,000-$100,000, and Born Again Christians. Romney led among Independents, both the youngest and oldest voters, moderates, and the lowest and highest income groups. John McCain was in third place by virtue of doing well (though not leading) among voters over 55 (especially over 65), and moderates.[41]

New Hampshire

After his win in Iowa, Obama led in all the polls by an average of 10 points in New Hampshire, but Clinton stunned the political world by beating Obama 39%-37%, with Edwards at 17%.

McCain won the GOP contest by 37%-32% over Romney, who had previously dominated the polls in the Granite State. Huckabee ran third at 11%; about 11% of the state's Republicans are evangelicals.

Voter behavior

Obama did best among men, younger voters, independents, and college graduates, while Clinton led by wide margins among women, poorer voters, union members, registered Democrats and older voters--that is, her voter profile resembled the old New Deal Coalition.[42]


The Michigan primary was won by Clinton on Jan. 15 with 56% of the vote, but her main opponents had withdrawn and supported an "uncommitted" ticket. The reason was the national party stripped Michigan of all its delegates for breaking the national rules on primary dates.

After unexpected defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney promised to fight on, but stopped his TV ads in South Carolina (which has a primary on Jan. 19) to concentrate on the Jan. 15 Michigan primary in the state where he was born and his father was governor. Romney regained momentum by a 10 point win in Michigan over McCain.[43]

Voter behavior

Exit polls show McCain lost soundly among registered Republicans--41% for Romney, 27% for McCain. McCain also lost among voters who considered the economy as the top issue—Romney 42% McCain 29%. He fared no better among those who said illegal immigration Polls show the economy may be looming more important as consumer confidence tumbles to the lowest levels of the post-9/11 era. Data released Jan 16 by Rasmussen Reports shows that 73% of Americans believe the economy is getting worse.

McCain did win among those consider the War in Iraq the top issue—McCain 41% Romney 31%. However, among those who considered the broader War on Terror as most important McCain and Romney were tied at 31%.[44]


As 28% of Democrats turned out, Clinton added Hispanics to her coalition of women, older and poorer Democrats, and outpolled Obama 51-45. Obama refused to concede because he won one more convention delegate than she. 15% were Hispanics; 64% of them favored Clinton. 15% were black; 83% of them favored Obama. Obama has strong support among secular voters while Clinton carried Catholics, Jews and white Protestants. Most Republican candidates ignored the state, except for Romney who won 51%; half his supporters were Mormons. Only 11% of the state's registered Republicans showed up.

Voter behavior

South Carolina

In the first contest to test the mood of southern voters, McCain edged Huckabee 33%-30%, while Thompson edged out Romney for third place, 16%-15%. More than half of the TV commercials in the primary were Romney ads, but he gave up a few days early to solidify his lead in Nevada caucuses the same day. Allegations of dirty tricks and illegal campaigning, reappeared, but were not as nasty as reported back in the McCain-Bush contest in 2000.

Clinton and Obama questioned one another's honesty and fitness for the White House in a nationally televised debate on Jan. 21 notable for its nasty tone.[45]

Clinton and Obama are using opposite tactics to get out their black supporters. Clinton depends on the established African American political networks, based around prominent politicians and religious leaders, as well as barber shops and beauty parlors that reach the lower-income voters. Clinton's traditional approach involves money--for example hiring a state representative at $20,000 a month, who in turns gives out "walking-around money," or "street money" to local supporters to guarantee turnout. Obama, eschewing the old techniques, has brought in out-of state organizers, many of them white, to create a new campaign apparatus from scratch. They have circumvented the established black political gentry and try to reach the voters directly. They discovered they had to publicize that Obama was black. With consciousness of skin color a factor in the African American community, the organizers featured appearances by Obama's wife, Michelle Obama, whose darker complexion carries a special meaning when contrasted to the lighter skin tone of her husband. "It was important for people to see that Obama wasn't putting on airs by marrying a woman lighter than him," explained Obama's South Carolina political director. "You think a thing like that wouldn't matter, but here it does, very much."[46]

Voter behavior

McCain won moderates and independents, and scored well among the large active-duty and retired military population. His supporters were more upscale (in terms of education and income) and more moderate (in terms of social issues) than Huckabee's. Many deeply religious voters flocked to Mike Huckabee, while nonevangelical conservatives splintered among McCain, Romney, Thompson, and Huckabee.[47]

South Carolina proved racially polarized. About 55% of the voters were black, and they gave Obama 78% of their vote, compared to 19% for Clinton and 2% for Edwards, who won the primary there in 2004. Indeed, the Democratic National Committee gave the state an early primary in order to feature the black vote. [48]


Florida, with 18 million people, is a microcosm of the GOP: part Southern, part northern, part Republican establishment, part evangelical, with many conservative Cubans as well. Unlike the retail politics of Iowa and New Hampshire, the candidates used wholesale techniques, relying on the media. Romney, the best funded candidate, ran more commercials in the state's numerous TV markets than all his opponents together. Of 8,012 TV spots, Romney aired 4,475, followed by 3,067 for Giuliani and a mere 470 for the cash-strapped McCain campaign.[49]

McCain won by nearly 100,000 votes, gaining 36% to 31% for Romney. Giuliani had 15% and Huckabee 14%. Giuliani gambled everything on winning Florida. His national and state leads collapsed in December; he won only 2% in South Carolina. Independents, who gave McCain his win in South Carolina, are excluded here, as only registered Republicans can vote. Florida is important, with 57 delegates awarded to the statewide winner (the state lost its other 57 delegates by breaking national rules and holding an early primary.)[50]

In the Democratic race Clinton won by a landslide, with 50% to 33% for Obama and 14% for Edwards. However the Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of all its delegates because it set its primary too early; candidates were not allowed to campaign there in any way, but were allowed to fundraise in the state. That decision has angered Florida Democrats and seriously weakened their morale for the fall elections.[51]

Voter behavior

Tsunami Tuesday

Nearly half the country chose its delegates on February 5 in a complex maze of rules. The Democrats have a proportional system, and the GOP mostly uses variations on winner-take-all.[52]

In the Republican contests, Romney won caucuses in Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota, and primaries in Massachusetts and Utah; Huckabee won the West Virginia caucuses, and primaries in the southern states of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and his home state of Arkansas. John McCain won the remaining primaries, in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma. Due to the concentrating effect of the Republican rules, McCain won nearly 600 delegates to 75 for Romney and 123 for Huckabee, despite McCain's winning vote percentages ranging from 32% to 55%. As a result of his poor showing on Tsunami Tuesday, Mitt Romney suspended his campaign for the presidency on February 7.

The Democrats' rules distributed the delegate totals more nearly proportionally to the total votes, so both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama obtained delegates from each of the states voting on February 5th. Clinton won in Arizona, Alaska, California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, while Obama won in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, and Utah. Obama was awarded approximately 650 delegates to Clinton's 740.

Later primaries

The proportional representation rule for Democratic primaries meant that Tsunami Tuesday did not end the race, as Clinton and Obama are close in delegate count. On Feb. 9 Obama won easily in Nebraska, Louisiana and Washington state, and picked up delegates in the U.S. Virgin Islands. With 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination, the Associated Press on Feb. 10 estimated 1,095 for Clinton and 1,070 for Obama.[53]

The vote in Louisiana split along racial and age lines. Obama won the African-American vote 82% to 18%, while Clinton won among whites 70% to 26%. Obama won those under age 65 while Clinton won voter over 65.

Six states plus the District of Columbia hold Democratic contests in mid-February, with some 400 delegates. Washington held caucuses on February 9th and will hold a primary on February 19th. The Democrats select all their delegates at the caucuses, with the primary being non-binding; the Republicans will select some delegates at the caucuses and some in the primary. Maine held its Democratic caucus Feb 10; Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia held primaries on Feb. 12.

Obama won the Democratic caucuses in Washington and Maine, and the "Potomac Primaries" in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Obama received 161 delegates to Clinton's 106, leaving Obama with a small edge in delegate count.

In his 9th and 10th straight victories against a fading Clinton, Obama scored landslides in icy Wisconsin, 58%-41%, and in sunny Hawaii on February 19. Obama's win raised new doubts about the Clinton campaign's strategy of casting the Illinois senator as a candidate whose soaring rhetoric masks a lack of preparation for the presidency. Analysts noted that Obama was now winning large majorities of white men, reducing Clinton to her core of white women and Hispanic voters. In Wisconsin white women voted for her by a slim 52%-47%, while Obama amassed a fat margin among white men, 63%-34%. Voters under 30 showed unusually high turnout rates as they rallied to Obama, 70%-26%.[54] Clinton did carry the dairy state's white Democrats by 51%-48%, but they comprised barely half the voters in the primary, which was open to Republicans and Independents.

March 4 was the next critical date for Clinton, as she scored victories in Ohio (161 delegates) and Texas (228 delegates). After a long hiatus, in which Obama raised far more money and outspent her heavily in TV ads, Clinton came back with a decisive win in Pennsylvania on April 22. However on May 6 Obama won by landslide margins in North Carolina, and held Clinton to a one-point victory in Indiana. The final six small states with 217 delegates will finish the primary season by June 3.

Democratic divisions

The primary contests showed the Democratic electorate was deeply divided along lines of race, gender, age and class. Although Clinton had strong support among blacks in 2007, her grass roots supported nearly vanished, falling below 10% in April and May primaries. On the other hand she scored large majorities among Latino voters, and led among whites. Looking at the white voters showed strong polarizations. In terms of gender, Clinton had a strong lead among white women. In terms of age, Obama had 70% support among voters under 30, and Clinton had large majorities among whites over age 60. Class (operationalized in terms of schooling) showed well educated whites for Obama, and less educated for Clinton. Whites without a college degree voted 64%-35% for Clinton in Indiana and 71%-26% in North Carolina); she won them by 61$-32% percent in all previous primaries to date.[55]

While Obama did poorly among working class whites--a major part of the old New Deal Coalition, most poorly educated blue collar workers have already moved out of the Democratic party and typically vote Republican. In the 1960s, 48% of white Democrats were manual workers and 29% had professional and managerial jobs. The numbers today are reversed, as only 23% of white Democrats have manual jobs--Clinton's base-- and 51% are professionals and managers--Obama's base. The blue collar remnant still in the party voted heavily for Clinton in the primaries, and indicated they would not support Obama in the fall, thus signalling their further exodus from the party. The issue for Obama is whether his dramatic strength among youth and well-educated voters can offset those losses.[56]


Polls show Americans were unusually focused on this year's election, more so than for any recent election at this time in the election-year cycle. The Gallup poll found in early February that 71% said they had given "quite a lot of thought" to the election, a number that Gallup called "extraordinarily high" for this time in the election cycle. The comparable rate in early 2004 was only 58%. Gallup gives four explanations. First, no incumbents are running for re-election, so both nominations are up for grabs. Second, this year's "cast of characters" has unique characteristics and appeal. For the first time in U.S. history major-party front-runners this deep into the process have included a woman, a black, a Mormon, and a Baptist minister. Third, the primary and caucus season occur much earlier. Fourth, the races themselves got underway much earlier than usual, with full-scale announcements and campaigns initiated a year ago or more.[57]

Gallup research has shown that Democrats are in general more enthusiastic about their candidates in 2008 than are Republicans. Democrats have turned out in far larger and more enthusiastic rallies, and numbered far more supporters in the Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida contests, even though the parties were about evenly balanced in those states in 2000 and 2004. On Tsunami Tuesday, twice as many people voted in the Democratic primaries compared to the GOP. McCain noted that turnout among Republican voters has been anemic while Democrats have shown up to primaries and caucuses in record numbers. "I've said many times, we've got a lot of work to do to energize our base".[58]

As 2008 opened the Democratic candidates had thus far raised $223 million, compared with $152 million for Republican candidates. Obama broke all fund-raising records, and in the first four months of 2008 was averaging a million dollars a day, double what Clinton raised and triple that for McCain. Obama counted on 1.475 million total donors, who made 2.93 million contributions, averaging $91 each.

A Rasmussen poll at the end of January found that 47% of Democrats say they are "passionately and deeply committed" to their candidate, compared to only 28% of Republicans. Among Democrats who are passionate about a candidate, 53% favor Clinton and 28% Obama. Among passionate Republicans, 34% support Romney, 23% Huckabee, 10% McCain and 10% Paul. Americans under 30 and those who earn less than $40,000 a year are more likely to be passionate about a candidate than older and higher-income Americans. 27% of all voters believe McCain is too old to be President, while 56%, disagree and say he is not too old for the job.[59]

Throughout the long primary season new records were set for attandance at rallies, fundraising, voter turnout, and registration of new voters, especially on the Democratic side. The downside of the enthusiasm was a reluctance to vote in November for the party nominee on the part of the losers' supporters. In the May primaries, half the Democrats who voted for Clinton indicated they would not vote for Obama in November. Party leaders sought an early end to the contest to allow time for these divisions to heal.[60]

In the primaries alone, the Democrats attracted close to 37 million voters, with 17.3 million for Obama. The Republicans, in contrast, drew just under 21 million primary voters, with 9.8 million for McCain.

Third party and independent candidates

In addition to the Democratic and Republican candidates, a number of third party and independent candidates ran:

  • Cynthia McKinney ran on the Green Party ticket, with Rosa Clemente as her vice-presidential candidate. McKinney is a three-time Democratic congresswoman for Georgia. She supports the abolition of the death penalty, reparations for slavery and a variety of other issues, as part of a left-wing, envrionmentalist Green Party platform.
  • Former Republican congressman for Georgia Bob Barr was on the Libertarian Party ticket, and achieved ballot access in forty-five states, with vice-presidential candidate Wayne Allen Root. Barr has had an about-face turn on a variety of issues including the war on drugs.
  • The religious conservative Constitution Party (formerly the U.S. Taxpayers' Party) has nominated Chuck Baldwin, a pastor and local Moral Majority leader who ran as the party's vice-presidential candidate in 2004, along with Darrell Castle as vice-presidential candidate. The Constitution Party has been endorsed by libertarian, former Republican candidate Ron Paul.
  • Former Green Party and Reform Party candidate and consumer rights activist Ralph Nader ran as an independent candidate with Matt Gonzalez as his running mate.

Although the likelihood of their success was close to zero, the Green, Libertarian and Constitution candidates were on enough ballots to have the possibility of getting enough electoral votes for the presidency. In addition, there were a number of other candidates from smaller parties. Ballot and debate access for third party and independent candidates has always been controversial, but no significant change has happened this year to the last few years of American elections.


The issues Democrats care about heightened voter turnout, but they have not differentiated the candidates. That is, there is very little correlation between which issues Democrats see as most important and who they have voted for. Thus health care is mentioned by 20-25% of Democrats as a top concern, but they split their votes same way as Democrats who do not rank the issue highly. For the Democrats personal qualities have been far more influential.[61]

Issues have mattered more for Republicans. The Iraq issue hurt McCain in summer 2007, but started to help him in the fall when the public sensed gains in the war there due to the "surge" McCain championed. McCain also gains among Republicans who criticize Bush's handling of the economy, while those who praise Bush support Romney. Immigration has been Romney’s best issue, but the constituency viewing it as a high priority has been too small to carry a primary for him. In Florida, Romney had a 43% to 25% edge over McCain among voters who said immigration is the most important issue; however, they constituted only 16% of the voters.[62]


For both parties, the warning signs of a possible economic downturn or recession put the economics issue higher on the agenda in early 2008. As Congress works toward a bipartisan stimulus package, the candidates have begun offering their own proposals. With the Crash of 2008, the economy has become the top issue for many voters.

Global financial crisis

During the Crash of 2008, Obama and McCain clashed over the proposed taxpayer-baked Wall Street bailout; while McCain said he would suspend his campaign to go to Washington for talks over the deal, Obama argued that the forthcoming presidential debate should continue. In the event, Obama did go to Washington, but according to some commentators, was the more effective of the two men in raising pertinent issues. Obama later said that reflection rather than drama was his position during the crisis.[63]

Iraq and the War on Terror

For Democrats the central issue is the depth of opposition to Bush's Iraq War; Republicans generally support Bush on Iraq. As of November 2007, polls on average show that over 60% of Americans believe that the war is not going well, and a central part of the 2008 campaigns have been each candidates' strategy to stabilize Iraq and set the stage for withdrawal for Iraq. Most Democratic candidates have stated that a withdrawal of troops is necessary to reduce the risk of further casualties of U.S. troops in Iraq, and will also help Iraqi forces become self-sufficient. Some Democratic candidates have stated that continuing U.S presence has abetted the rise of Al-Qaeda in Iraq with Senator Joe Biden stating "We must get our soldiers out of this civil war where they become justification for the Bush-fulfilling prophecy of Al-Qaeda in Iraq to flourish..."

Conversely, almost every candidate for the GOP nomination has supported President Bush's call for an extended presence in Iraq, stating that the troops should be allowed to finish their assignment and that an early withdrawal could precipitate a breakdown of Iraq's parliamentary government, allowing it to fall to influence from Iran or Al-Qaeda. An exception to this has been Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, who was the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee in 1988, who has consistently advocated for a non-interventionist foreign policy and a withdrawal of troops from Iraq.


A central issue for Republicans (but not Democrats) is the status of illegal immigrants, with a grass roots nativism hurting Giuliani. Debate goes on in the Republican party as to whether or not illegal immigrants should be granted a path to citizenship, although all candidates have stated their opposition towards businesses hiring them in America. Among the Democratic field, all candidates have stated a desire to allow a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, though each candidates' plans differ. Some have stated their support for a crackdown on businesses hiring undocumented workers. Huckabee came under heavy attack for his proposals in Arkansas to allow children who grew up in the state to obtain in-state tuition even if they entered illegally with their parents. Huckabee suddenly reversed positions and, along with Romney. took a hard line with talk of forcing illegals to return to Mexico. In the South Carolina primary, 26% of GOP voters said illegal immigration was the main issue; among this group Huckabee beat McCain 33%-24%. 52% of the state Republicans said illegals should be deported, and Huckabee beat McCain among this group by 34% to 26%. The 28% of GOP voters who want to give the illegals a path to citizenship gave McCain 44% of their vote, versus 31% for Huckabee.[64]


Money became much more important in 2008 than previous elections. The candidates spent $915 million before June 1, 2008, double the spending in 2004, and the spending rate continues to escalate. Obama has demonstrated much better fund raising skills than Clinton or McCain; he raised twice as much as Clinton, who borrowed most of her funds in February to May, 2008. McCain has announced that he will accept federal funding, which provides a $84.1 million subsidy from the Treasury but a prohition on additional spending. (That is, McCain cannot spend a penny over the $84.1 million, but the Republican National Committee can do so on his behalf, and is expected to have about $110 million.) McCain attacked Obama for reversing himself and deciding to reject federal subsidies and limits, in the expectation that he can raise $300 million on his own. The Republican and Democratic National Committees and groups that are created specifically to influence elections, (called "527’s" after the federal tax code that allows them), will spend many millions of dollars in the fall election. Thus far Obama's biggest expense was $85 million paid to GMMB, a media consulting firm; $69 million of that was used to buy advertising time, especially on television during primary contests. Counting all the candidates, the bulk of the spending has gone for media and consulting (37%), staff (16%), travel (11%), mailings (11%), events (5%) and telemarketing (5%).[65]


The nomination process for the two main parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, is significantly more complex than the process at the general election. For most of the history of the United States, each party nominated its candidate at its national convention in the summer before the election. However, the process for selecting the delegates (the people who vote on the nomination) to the convention has changed over time, and differ for each state and each party.[66]

Most states use primaries, which are ordinary secret-ballot elections. Some primaries are open only to party members; in others like New Hampshire, registered independents can vote in either party's primary. Some states do not record party preference in registration; in those states, voters can choose to vote in either primary.

In the nineteenth century all states used local caucuses and a state convention. Progressives created the direct primary system in 1900 to break the power of state party organizations. The states that rejected primaries in the 1900s and 1970s continue to use caucuses that elect delegates to a state convention, which in turn selects the delegates to the national convention. The best-known caucus state is Iowa, whose caucuses are traditionally the first in the nominating process.

In Iowa voters to go to a local school or meeting place; Republicans sign in with their vote and leave. Democrats must spend an hour or two in a "caucus" to register their preference. Supporters of candidates with under 15% at that caucus move to another candidate. The Democratic Iowa caucus is a mixture of discussion, debating, a little horse-trading, and some consensus-building between neighbors. Anything can happen, but the media will report on the distribution of support at at the end of the evening. The actual national delegates in Iowa will be chosen months later at the state convention.

The Democratic Party rules require that delegates are awarded to the candidate in proportion to their votes in each congressional district in the primary. In addition the Democrats have "superdelegates" who are party officials who automatically become delegates. The Republicans allow a broader variety of rules among the states. Several states (Florida, with a Jan. 29 primary, and New York and New Jersey with primaries on Feb. 5) have "winner take all" rules that magnify their importance. California awards 11 of 170 delegates to the statewide plurality winner, and the remaining 159 as winner-take-all per congressional district.

Third parties choose their candidates at their own, smaller conventions that receive little coverage.

The nomination campaign will have three stages. In January, come the preliminaries, with attention focused on the Iowa caucus (Jan. 3) and the New Hampshire primary (Jan 8), along with contests in Michigan, South Carolina and Florida. Then comes Super Tuesday Feb 5, with 40% of the delegates chosen. After that a string of primaries will be held, which will become increasingly important if the races become deadlocked on Feb. 5. The nominees could possibly be undecided until the national conventions in August/September.

Interest groups

Labor Unions

The labor union movement, which itself is split into two camps, divided its support between Clinton and Obama. Clinton had 12 endorsements from unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO -- the nation's largest labor federation -- as well as the United Farm Workers from the rival Change To Win labor federation. However, Obama in mid-February won three of the largest unions (all from Change to Win), The Teamsters (1.4 million members), the United Food and Commercial Workers (comprising 1.3 million supermarket workers and meatpackers) and the Service Employees International Union (1.9-million members). He also has two AFL-CIO unions, the Transport Workers Union and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters. Unions and other interest groups have spent far more money so far for Clinton. Two AFL-CIO unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers, have spent nearly $4 million for Clinton.[67]

The New Deal Coalition forged by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s dominated national politics until the mid-1960s. One key reason was the close alliance of the party with labor unions. Since the 1960s, however, union membership has fallen by 2/3. In the 1980s unions came under assault from business and the party was unable to help them. Unions in recent years have increased their activism in the election cycle, especially in terms of funding and get-out-the-vote campaigns.

In 2004 and 2006, unions spent a combined $561 million to help elect their preferred candidates (most of them Democrats). That is nearly a 50% increase over the $381 million spent on the previous two campaigns. However they are still outspent by business; in 2000, companies were responsible for three times as much spending as unions. By the 2006 election, companies and their employees spent $491 million on elections, compared with $264 million for labor unions. Labor spent $32 million on its own mailings and television and radio commercials for the 2004 and 2006 elections, a nearly fivefold jump over the previous four years. Polls show 74% of voters who belong to an AFL-CIO-affiliated union voted for the congressional candidate endorsed by their union in 2006, up from 70% in 2004 and 68% in 2002.[68]


  1. Justin M. Sizemore, "How Obama Did It: Big states, small states, caucuses and campaign strategy," Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball (June 5, 2008) v 6 #22
  2. The many variations are summarized at "2008 Democratic Popular Vote"
  3. See http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2008/president/democratic_delegate_count.html
  4. quoted at ABC News, "The Note" Feb. 13. 2008
  5. "Senator Obama's victory speech [in Iowa] was a concise oratorical gem. No candidate in either party can move an audience like he can.... He's...charismatic." Bob Herbert, "The Obama Phenomenon," The New York Times, Jan. 5, 2008; Obama Dec 27. 2007 speech at Obama official website; Jonathan Greenberger, ABC News, May 17, 2007 report
  6. Kristin Jensen and Julianna Goldman, "Clinton, Obama Battle Makes for Partisan Politics Without Unity," Bloomberg News, Jan. 10, 2008
  7. Brian Friel, Richard E. Cohen and Kirk Victor, "Obama: Most Liberal Senator In 2007" National Journal, Jan. 31, 2008
  8. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/us_elections/article3134308.ece
  9. See NBC report at [1], and CNN report at [2]
  10. Carrie Budoff Brown, "Obama faces off against both Clintons," POLITICO Jan 20, 2008
  11. Mark Z. Barabak, "Obama easily wins heated S.C. primary," Los Angeles Times Jan. 27, 2008; Larry Sabato, Sabato's Crystal Ball - Vol. VI#3 Jan 24, 2008.
  12. Tim Reid, "Polls show Barack Obama damaged by link to Reverend Jeremiah Wright," (London) Times Online Mar. 21, 2008; Rasmussen reports, "The Impact of Pastor Wright and THE SPEECH on Election 2008," March 20, 2008
  13. see [3]
  14. quoted (London) Telegraph Dec-9-2007
  15. Brian Friel, Richard E. Cohen and Kirk Victor, "Obama: Most Liberal Senator In 2007" National Journal, Jan. 31, 2008
  16. Kristin Jensen and Julianna Goldman, "Clinton, Obama Battle Makes for Partisan Politics Without Unity," Bloomberg News, Jan. 10, 2008
  17. See NBC report at [4], and CNN report at [5]; see for detailed exit polls
  18. Ben Smith, "Racial tensions roil Democratic race," Politico Jan 11, 2008
  19. Michael Luo, Jo Becker and Patrick Healy, "Spending by Clinton Campaign Worries Supporters." New York Times Feb. 22, 2008
  20. Rick Klein and Sarah Amos, "Bill Clinton: Texas Could Be Hillary's Last Stand," ABC News Feb 20, 2008
  21. See details at 2008 Democratic Popular Vote
  22. Dan Balz, "Decision Time for Clinton," Washington Post May 8, 2009; Adam Nagourney, "Clinton Facing Narrower Path to Nomination," New York Times, Mar. 20, 2008; Robert D. Novak, "Clinton Crosses a Line," Washington Post May 29, 2008
  23. Andrew Kohut, "The G.O.P.’s Unanswered Question," New York Times Jan. 11, 2008
  24. See Real Clear Politics and the MSNBC results, updated daily
  25. The presidential candidate tells the convention whom to select as VP. Rarely, as in 1956, the convention is allowed to vote for its own choice of VP.
  26. Chris Cillizza, "Obama Leads McCain in Four Key Battleground States," Washington Post June 26, 2008
  27. See Real Clear Politics summary of national match-ups and [http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/election_20082/2008_presidential_election/election_2008_electoral_college_update Rasmussen Reports, "Election 2008: Electoral College Update Electoral College: Democrats 200 Republicans 189 Leaners 111 Toss-Up 38 " May 22, 2008]; Associated Press, "General election competitive states" June 5, 2008
  28. Roger Cohen, "McCain's comeback," International Herald Tribune Jan. 16, 2008
  29. Roger Cohen, "McCain's comeback," International Herald Tribune Jan. 16, 2008; For voting details see CNN at [6]
  30. John M. Broder, "McCain, Long a G.O.P. Maverick, Is Gaining Mainstream Support," New York Times Jan. 28, 2008; Adam Nagourney, "McCain’s Victory in a Party-Only Primary Raises the Hurdles for Romney," New York Times Jan. 30, 2008
  31. Matthew Continetti, "The Giuliani Implosion: From frontrunner to also-ran in eight short weeks," The Weekly Standard Jan. 21, 2008; Justin Wolfers, "How Rudy's Bet Went Wrong," Wall Street Journal Jan. 23, 2008; Michael Powell and Michael Cooper, "For Giuliani, a Dizzying Free-Fall", New York Times Jan. 30, 2008
  32. Giuliani Exits Race, Endorses McCain, Associated Press, 30 January 2008.
  33. . Evangelicals comprise 48%-68% of Republicans in the South and border states, 47% in Iowa, and only 11% in New Hampshire. Andrew Kohut, "The G.O.P.’s Unanswered Question," New York Times Jan. 11, 2008
  34. See criticism reported by Jennifer Rubin, "Romney and Huckabee: Club for Growth Comparisons," from Human Events Aug. 24, 2007
  35. Dan Balz, "Huckabee's Rise and Rise," Washington Post Dec. 10, 2007; Michael D. Shear and Juliet Eilperin, "Suddenly, Huckabee Is in Romney's Rearview Mirror," Washington Post Nov. 25, 2007; "Shields and Brooks Mull Iowa Election Push, Baseball Scandal" PBS, Dec. 14, 2007
  36. Perry Bacon Jr., "The Key in South Carolina: Huckabee Fails to Get Decisive Edge Among Evangelicals," Washington Post Jan. 20, 2008
  37. David D. Kirkpatrick, "Huckabee’s Money Woes Curtail Campaign," New York Times Jan. 22. 2008
  38. Adam Nagourney, "McCain’s Victory in a Party-Only Primary Raises the Hurdles for Romney," New York Times Jan. 30, 2008
  39. In California Romney did much worse than polls predicted (the polls had him tied with McCain but he lost by 8 points). In the closing days he banked heavily on the anti-immigrant argument with intense TV commercials. Romney did well among the 28% who saw illegal immigration as the top issue, beating McCain by 50%-26%. However he lost heavily among the 60% who were more tolerant of immigrants (McCain won them by 50%-28%). Asians and Latinos comprised 19% of the GOP vote in California; most are immigrants or children of immigrants and they voted for McCain over Romney by 48%-21%.
  40. Michael Scherer, "Romney's Big Push Nets Little," Time Feb. 06, 2008
  41. Zogby data based on 867 likely caucus–goers; see press release 12-30-07 at [7]
  42. See NBC report at [8], and CNN report at [9]
  43. Michael Luo and Michael Cooper, "Focus Shifts to South Carolina for Romney and Rivals." New York Times Jan 17, 2008
  44. Rasmussen Reports, "Michigan Exit Polls Show Challenges for McCain," Jan 16, 2008 online
  45. Cathleen Decker and Seema Mehta, "Clinton, Obama reach new level of rancor," Los Angeles Times Jan 22. 2008
  46. Christopher Cooper, Valerie Bauerlein and Corey Dade, "New Machine: In South, Democrats' Tactics May Change Political Game," Wall Street Journal Jan. 23 2008
  47. See summary results; Alan Fram and Mike Mokrzycki, "McCain won over moderates in S.C." AP Report, Jan. 20, 2008
  48. Mark Z. Barabak, "Obama easily wins heated S.C. primary," Los Angeles Times Jan. 27, 2008; Gary Langer and Brian Hartman, "Black Voters Lift Obama to S.C. Victory; Obama Showing Among White Voters in S.C. Indicates Uphill Battle Ahead," ABC News Jan. 26, 2008
  49. Nielsen Co. Press Release, "Romney Leads in Florida Primary Advertising, Nielsen Reports" Jan, 28, 2008
  50. Adam Nagourney, "No Quick Knockouts as Races Move to New Terrain," New York Times Jan, 20, 2008; Doyle McManus, "Florida becomes showdown state for GOP," Los Angeles Times Jan. 20, 2008; Elizabeth Holmes, "With a Crowded Republican Field, Candidates Set Sights on Florida," Wall Street Journal Jan. 20, 2008
  51. Bob Moser, "Fumbling Florida: Have Democrats already blown their biggest swing state," The Nation Dec. 17, 2007, pp 20-24
  52. for explanation, maps and statistics, see Rhodes Cook, "Super Tuesday," in Sabato's CrystalBall '08 Jan. 31, 2008
  53. The different news media use different estimation techniques. Some do not count the caucus states, which have heavily favored Obama, until the delegates are finally selected sometime in the spring. AP estimates the way the caucus states will finally vote. Mike McIntyre, "Media and Candidate Methods of Counting Delegates Vary and So Do Totals," New York Times Feb. 9, 2008
  54. see Wisconsin Dem exit poll
  55. ABC News Polling Unit, "Exit Poll: White Working-Class vs. Change in Indiana; Blacks Lift Obama to N.C. Victory Obama Wins Nearly Unanimous Support Among African-Americans in N.C." online at ABC News May 7, 2008
  56. Alan I. Abramowitz, "This Is Not Your Father's (Or Mother's) Democratic Party: the White Working Class, Democrats and the 2008 Election," in Larry J. Sabato’s CrystalBall'08 May 15, 2008, online
  57. Frank Newport, "Americans Display Record Level of Interest in the Election." Gallup Feb 5, 2008
  58. Alex Frangos and Amy Chozick, "Obama Defeats Clinton in Contests Huckabee Wins Kansas, Louisiana; McCain Grabs Washington State in Close Race," Wall Street Journal Feb. 10, 2008
  59. See Rasmussen Report, "Passion Gap: Democrats More Committed to Candidates Than Republicans," Jan. 29, 2008
  60. "Clinton's Indiana win keeps Democratic race alive" [http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/05/06/primaries.change/ CNN ElectionCenter2008 May 7, 2008
  61. Andrew Kohut, "A Look at the Numbers," New York Times Jan. 31, 2008
  62. Andrew Kohut, "A Look at the Numbers," New York Times Jan. 31, 2008
  63. TIME: 'Why Barack Obama is winning.' November 3 2008.
  64. CNN report on exit poll
  65. Hannah Fairfield and Griff Palmer, "Cashing in on Obama and McCain", New York Times July 6, 2008
  66. For details see the unofficial site "Election 2008: Primary, Caucus, and Convention Phase"
  67. Jesse J. Holland, "Powerful 1.9M-Member Union Backs Obama," AP Feb. 15, 2008; and Jesse Holland, "Teamsters Union Endorses Obama," AP Feb. 20, 2008; Brody Mullins, T.W. Farnam and John Emshwiller, "Clinton Backers Launch Ads as Obama Gets Union Support," [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120353609734380611.html?mod=rss_Politics_And_Policy Wall Street Journal Feb. 21, 2008
  68. Brody Mullins, "Labor Makes Big Comeback In '08 Races; Ramping Up Spending, Unions Get Voters to Polls; The Battle in Nevada; Wall Street Journal Jan. 18, 2008