Why Obama Won


10. Great Team. Obama assembled a great team that could work together. He stayed away from lobbyist insiders like Clinton’s Mark Penn or McCain’s Charlie Black, and chose political professionals who are committed to progressive values like David Plouffe, David Axelrod, Steve Hildebrand and Paul Tewes.

From the first he insisted on one key rule: no drama. There was little of the infighting and division in the Obama operation that ate away at the Clinton campaign. Clinton had many capable staffers and consultants, but Penn’s divisive leadership style and failures as a strategist doomed the campaign to dysfunction. When the brilliant Geoff Garin was tapped to succeed Penn as Chief Strategist in April, it was simply too late.

9. All-State Strategy. Penn was convinced that Clinton could sew up the nomination by Super Tuesday, focussing only on the big States. In fact, some have reported that he mistakenly believed that California had a "winner take all" primary.

Obama’s team hunted for delegates in every nook and cranny of the US – especially in the caucus States that Clinton really didn’t contest. Obama ran an active, on-the-ground campaign in every contest, from California to Guam. As a consequence, as one anonymous Clinton insider reports, Clinton lost the nomination in February after Obama ran the table in 11 straight states.

8. No Plan B. The Clinton campaign had no fallback plan when it failed to capture the nomination on 5 February. There was no money, no organisation and no plan to contest the states that lay beyond Super Tuesday.

7. Excellence in Execution. Obama ran the best field operation in US political history, particularly in the all important Iowa caucuses. His campaign left no stone unturned in any State. It opened offices everywhere, hired and trained great staff, and managed them through simple, streamlined structures.

It would have been easy for Obama to squander the massive influx of volunteers who were mobilised through his inspirational message. But the campaign developed structures to integrate and effectively use volunteers, both on the ground and through the internet. In particular, it developed highly sophisticated new online tools to allow volunteers around the country to participate meaningfully in voter ID and get-out-the-vote operations.

6. Fundraising. Obama’s ability to compete across the country, to build great field structures and to out-communicate Clinton in the paid media rested squarely on his massive fundraising operation. Obama’s traditional fundraising program ended up matching the vaunted Clinton fundraising machine, but the newly developed internet operation provided a massive advantage.

So far Obama has recruited over 1.5 million donors. In other words, by the time the primary season ends, almost one in every 10 Obama primary voters (so far, there have been 16.3 million) will have made a financial contribution to his campaign. That is unprecedented.

5. Obama Out-Communicated Clinton Using One Consistent Message. Obama’s message has been consistent from Day One. Clinton lurched from "experienced insider" to "populist outsider", from Margaret Thatcher-like "Iron Lady" to a "victim being bullied". And Obama’s huge small-donor-driven fundraising advantage gave him the ability to out-communicate her in the paid media – often by a factor of two-to-one.

4. Hope and Inspiration trumped Fear and Anger. A core element of the Obama message has always been hope and inspiration. Early on, John Edwards hit an important chord of populist anger that is critical to any successful Democratic campaign. Right now especially, people want their leaders to be populist outsiders, not "competent" insiders.

But Edwards was unable to resolve that anger into hope. Obama touched the anger but also held out possibility. When Hillary "found her voice" as the fighting populist at the end of the campaign, she tapped into anger as well. But she never managed to inspire and resolve that fear into hope.

Inspiration is the one political message that simultaneously persuades swing voters and motivates voters who rarely come to the polls. The North Carolina landslide provided a striking example of how inspiration can generate massive mobilisation at the same time it appeals to independent swing voters.

3. Unity Trumped Division. Obama showed that appeals to division – whether from elements that stirred up fear that a "black candidate couldn’t win", or from his former pastor – could be overcome by the US’s overwhelming hunger for unity.

Americans – and particularly young Americans – are sick of Republican appeals based on the things that divide us, particularly race. It isn’t 1988 anymore. A whole generation has passed from the scene and been replaced by young people who simply don’t get the passions that allowed the fear of "Willie Horton" to decide the 1988 presidential race.

2. Change Trumped Experience. Clinton Chief Strategist Mark Penn’s fundamental strategic error was to position Clinton as the "Experience" candidate, when America desperately wanted change. Eighty per cent of the voters think the US is on the wrong track. They want change in general – and most importantly, they want change in the way special interests dominate Washington. Mark Penn, the consummate lobbyist-insider, himself embodied the very thing people believe is wrong in Washington. It’s no wonder he made this catastrophic strategic blunder.

1. Obama is an Extraordinary Candidate. Inspirational, articulate, brilliant, funny, attractive and naturally empathetic; his history as a community organiser, his experience abroad, his beautiful family, accomplished wife and adorable kids: Obama is the kind of candidate any campaign manager would want in any year. But he is perfect for this year. While the Clintons represented the Bridge to the 21st Century, Obama is the 21st century. His own, multicultural story is the future of America. As the campaign tested him, he showed he was cool, deliberate and effective under fire.

Campaigns are ultimately about the qualities of candidates, about whether people want them as their leaders. Potentially, Barack Obama could become a historic, transformational leader. But John McCain has many qualities that are attractive to swing voters as well. Nothing is preordained. Now it will be up to every Democrat, every progressive, to take advantage of this historic opportunity to make Barack Obama the US President who leads the world into a new progressive era of unprecedented possibility.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.