WASHINGTON — Did Barack Obama upset Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination because:
- A.) He worked harder in Iowa and other caucus and early-voting states and built a national movement of youth and grass-roots activists and small-dollar donors?
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The answer is:
E.) All of the above.
With the last primaries over and the general election ahead, Obama, his advisers and thousands of volunteers are looking back proudly on what political science professors will teach for years as a new model for how to campaign for president.
"Hillary, before Super Tuesday, thought it was going to end on Super Tuesday, but the Obama campaign kept winning in the caucus states," said Roy Romer, a former Colorado governor and a Democratic National Committee chairman during Bill Clinton's presidency. Romer endorsed Obama in mid-May.
"He tapped into an urge of many people to participate, and he gave them a means of participating, and kept them informed through an e-mail network, and he got them feeling they were part of the campaign and making history happen. And he had a personal charisma that struck a chord deeply in the American psyche."
"I like her," Romer said of Clinton. "But this was not her time."
Obama also benefitted from a national mood in which Democrats, tired of war and political dynasties, preferred to take their chances on a novice who promised change than perpetuate a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton cycle.
The jostling among states to vote early prompted Florida and Michigan to defy Democratic Party rules, preventing their primary results from being fully counted. That hurt Clinton, especially in Florida.
Obama's performance wasn't flawless. He let the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his own comments about "bitter" voters hurt him with white, working-class voters. Both could resurface in the general election.
Overall, though, the biracial, freshman Illinois senator thrived with a forward-looking, strategic and sometimes groundbreaking campaign.
"We took them by storm!" recalled Matt Robb, 23, a student at Michigan State University who spent eight months in Iowa as an unpaid intern for the Obama campaign and later as a paid organizer. Entering college as a golf-management major, Robb switched to politics, disgusted by Bush's 2004 re-election. He saw Obama as the Democrat who best represented change.
Robb spent hours every day making phone calls, breaking down surveys on Iowans' sentiments and building databases of the results. He marveled at the intricacy of one of the Obama campaign's strategies, to enlist high school students old enough to caucus in the hope that they'd also sway their parents to the candidate.
"We had the energy, youth and enthusiasm," Robb said, "and we weren't short on issues, either."
Behind the new faces, however, was a team of battle-tested advisers, many of whom had worked for former presidential hopefuls and Democratic leaders such as Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Joseph Lieberman — and the Clintons.
Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, also previously worked with other high-level African-American candidates who needed to appeal to white audiences.
Campaign manager David Plouffe, a partner in Axelrod's Chicago-based consulting firm, oversaw the strategy that emphasized winning Iowa and racking up pledged delegates in places where Clinton wasn't competing over concentrating on big states and the popular vote.
Obama brought his own pre-politics experiences to the table.
"He started out as a community organizer, so he recognized the power of a grass-roots campaign," said Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago businesswoman, a senior adviser to the campaign and a close friend of the Obamas.
"There are far more people involved in this campaign from volunteers to small-dollar donors than we've seen in the history of politics before," she said. "His strategy in the beginning was not to go after the big endorsements. It was to introduce himself to the American people, starting in Iowa.
"Barack and David Plouffe deserve a great deal of credit for focusing on Iowa when there was a lot of pressure to broaden his strategy to a national strategy. Donors were saying, 'We've been supportive, why are you still lagging in the national polls?' " but Obama and Plouffe maintained that "if he could win Iowa, it would generate enthusiasm and confidence throughout the rest of the country."
Jarrett also said that Obama's "no-drama philosophy" guided the team past controversies such as Wright. "The tone starts at the top and it permeates the organization. People feel very open and safe to debate issues internally, without any drama. There just isn't any. He recruited the kind of team that also lives their lives that way. And I think it's characteristic of the team he'd take to the White House, as well."
The media-savvy campaign played up television-friendly themes: Obama as the modern incarnation of John and Robert Kennedy, with help from Sen. Edward Kennedy's endorsement. Obama's campaign tour with Oprah Winfrey had two possible benefits: signaling to the talk-show celebrity's mainstream white audience that Obama was worthy of consideration and telling black women, whose loyalties had been divided between Obama and Clinton, which way to go.
Obama won Iowa, lost New Hampshire, took South Carolina by storm, held his own on Super Tuesday, then enjoyed a winning streak that included white general-election battleground states such as Wisconsin and Virginia.
Clinton replaced campaign managers and strategists, dug in and won in important places such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. But by then, many of the party's superdelegates, who ultimately decided the close contest, already had come to think that it was over, and that Obama had earned the nomination.