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2008: The Case for Barack Obama

At this time two years ago Barack Obama was not yet a household name. He had won the Illinois Democratic Senate nomination in a romp but had yet to deliver his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention -- a speech that catapulted him to political superstar status. Nor had he crushed perennial candidate Alan Keyes (R) in the general election to become the second African American man to be elected to the Senate since Reconstruction.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois
Is the Illinois senator leaving the door open to a 2008 presidential campaign?

Two years later the excitement about Obama has only increased. Democrats across the country want a piece of Obama -- his office says he gets 300 requests for appearance a week. Obama and his top aides insist that he is flattered by all of the attention but pays little mind to calls for him to run for president in two years.

Denials aside, Obama's travel schedule continues to raise eyebrows. The Illinoisan will headline Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry in September -- a traditional proving ground for aspiring presidential candidates. Obama is cast as the safe pick for Harkin since so many other high-profile Democrats in the Senate are already openly weighing White House bids.

Today, The Fix make the case for an Obama presidential candidacy in 2008. Check back on Thursday for the case against such a race.

Neither of these posts should be read as an indicator of whether Obama will run or not. We tend to doubt he will make the race; these posts are meant to spark conversation, so feel free to agree, disagree, condemn or compliment in the comments section below.

Run Barack, Run!

In politics, timing is everything. If you pass on an opportunity, it might not come around again. Just ask former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

In the run-up to the 1992 election, Cuomo was widely seen as the frontunner for the Democratic nomination against President George H.W. Bush. After two months of publicly hemming and hawing, Cuomo announced in December 1991 that he would not run, saying he could not simultaneously address economic problems in the Empire State and run for president. (Cuomo had also walked away from a presidential candidacy four years earlier.)

The rest, as they say, is history.

With Cuomo out of the race, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton surged to the nomination and the presidency. By the time the office was open again in 2000, Cuomo had been out of the governor's mansion for six years -- ousted from that position in 1994 by an upstart state senator named George Pataki (R).

Cuomo's cautionary tales hangs heavy over many Obama supporters. There's little question that Obama is the hottest political Democratic commodity in the country right now, drawing support from across the geographic and ideological spectrum. When 2,000 people show up to a state party dinner just for the chance to see Obama in person, it's clear there is an excitement level about him that no other Democratic politician (not even Hillary Rodham Clinton) can match.

Don't underestimate the excitement factor when it comes to presidential politics. Much of 2007 will be spent in the campaign trenches -- door-knocking, sending out mail pieces, urging small dollar donations, the kind of work that is far from glorious and can only be done well if there is a committed group of volunteers willing to do it.

For those who say Obama needs more seasoning before making a national bid, take a look at history. No senator has been directly elected president since John F. Kennedy in 1960, although scads have made the attempt. National polling shows the American public has soured considerably on Washington, and many Democratic insiders are coming to believe that the longer someone stays in Washington the less chance he or she has of being elected president.

As evidence, look no further than the current chief executive. When George W. Bush made clear he would run for president in 2000, he had only six years of elected office under his belt -- and that in a state where the governor has strict limits on his power. The lesson is that presidential elections are not always decided by the candidate with the longest -- or most impressive -- political resume. A great candidate on paper doesn't always equal a great candidate in practice.

Financial Starpower

Obama has several other factors working for him from a process point of view.

As we have noted in this space before, the first hurdle that any serious presidential candidate must clear is a financial one. Given the likely frontloading of the nomination process (four states voting in a 15-day period in January 2008), only those candidates able to fund full campaign operations and expensive television advertising buys in multiple states will be competitive.

Let's assume, conservatively, that the price tag for that kind of four state campaign is roughly $25 million. At the moment, the candidates who appear to have the capacity to raise that kind of money are Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards (maybe), ex-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh. (Former Vice President Al Gore would also qualify for that list if he decided to run.)

Obama would immediately join that group. He raised and spent $14 million in the general election against Keyes in 2004. And if the early returns of his Hopefund leadership PAC are an indication, there's plenty more where that come from. Since its founding last year, Hopefund has raised nearly $4 million -- putting it in the upper echelons of all leadership PACs currently operating.

The level of interest in Obama among the donor community and his fundraising base in Chicago (one of the Democratic fundraising hotspots) should erase any doubt that he could compete or eclipse every candidate but Clinton in the fundraising chase.

The other major factor recommending an Obama run in 2008 is his positioning on the Iraq war. Obama was not in the Senate in 2002 when the chamber passed the resolution authorizing President Bush to use force to remove Saddam Hussein from power. But Obama has said that he opposed the war all along, and he has been a frequent critic of the Bush administration's handling of the conflict.

This stance puts Obama in rarefied air, since Clinton, Edwards, Kerry and Bayh all voted for the resolution (Warner has sought a middle ground, refusing to call for a timetable for withdrawal). The only candidate likely to run (again, we are leaving Gore out of this debate) who has a so-called "clean" record on the war is Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, who has not shown the capacity to raise the tens of millions he would need to be competitive.

Take all of that together and what's it spell? O-B-A-M-A 2008!

Check back Thursday for the other side of this argument...

Read The Fix's past cases FOR and AGAINST:

* Rudy Giuliani: For | Against
* Al Gore: For | Against
* John Kerry: For | Against

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 25, 2006; 7:35 AM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party , Eye on 2008  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: And the Winners Are: Clinton, Edwards and Nevada
Next: The Fix Talks Back: Bellwether Project, Lieberman and More

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