the obama victims
Barack Obama’s electoral career is now over and it’s time for the body count. Barack Obama beat the following folks in elections:
- Alice Palmer
- A bunch of Republicans who ran in Hyde Park’s state senate district
- Jack Ryan
- Alan Keyes
- Hillary Clinton
- John McCain
- Mitt Romney
When you lay it out, you see a pattern. The victims tend to come in two categories. First, there are people who, for structural reasons, never had a chance at winning (e.g., Republicans in the South Side). I’ll toss John McCain in this category because no Republican could have won with a major recession and two wars hanging on his neck. Alan Keyes’ candidacy was hopeless because he’s, well, Alan Keyes.
Second, there are what I like to call the “high altitude” candidates. The high altitude candidate is a very wealthy or very prestigious person who has not worked their way up the ladder. These candidates have relatively little political experience. Hillary Clinton, for example, cruised to two very easy Senate wins in New York in 2000 and 2006. She had no serious primary or general election challenge. The second time, the GOP didn’t even bother running a serious opponent. Romney has an almost identical record. Using his large war chest, he easily rolled over all GOP challengers in Massachusetts. He was once spanked by Ted Kennedy and then went on to win the governorship a few years later.*
You know who was *not* an Obama victim? Bobby Rush, who represented District 1 in Illinois. That guy beat Obama in a primary challenge 59% to 29%. So bad was the beating that Obama admitted that he seriously considered dropping out of politics. Why was Rush the only politician to beat Obama? Well, he paid his dues and learned politics the hard way. He founded the Illinois Black Panthers and was a big player in SNCC. He ran for City Council and lost. Then, later, he won election as an Alderman. After that, he ran in 1992 for District 1. By the time Obama showed up, Rush, by my count, had fought at least 6 or 7 very nitty gritty local elections and was deeply rooted in the South Side. No way was he going to be bounced out by a Spider Man comic reading nerd from the University of Chicago.
The lesson I take from this history is that Obama is a truly skilled politician, but he was often lucky and took advantage of candidates who weren’t used to having serious opposition. That’s why he was always underestimated. The Clinton’s and Romney’s of the world are used to just rolling over people and have little experience with intelligent and well organized challengers who can exploit the political system in novel ways. But when confronted with a determined politician who had paid his dues, Obama showed he was as human and fallible as any other politician.
* What about Palmer? She’s a weird case that doesn’t fit either the loser or high altitude category. Obama’s people found that her paperwork was out of order and she was bounced from the ballot. She then decided not to run or contest the disqualification. Sui generis, but et tu BHO.