Why Obama Won

Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin, Politico, Nov. 5, 2008

Barack Obama’s sweeping victory as president of the United States sends him to the White House to face what may be the worst national financial crisis since the time of Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932.

Obama won on his own terms, strategically and symbolically. He rolled up a series of contested states, from Colorado to Virginia, long out of Democratic reach. And his victory reflected the accuracy of his vision of a reshaped country. Racism, much discussed, turned out to be a footnote, and African-American turnout was not unusually high. Instead, Obama drew his strength from an array of racially mixed, growing areas around cities like Orlando, Washington, Indianapolis, and Columbus on his way to at least 334 electoral votes.

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In his clear-cut victory, Obama became the first Democrat to win a majority of American votes since Jimmy Carter’s 1976 election. He won states just months ago thought to be impregnable to his party, places that just four years ago went for President Bush by double-digits: Virginia, Indiana, and North Carolina among them.

Indeed, Obama won in all regions of the country but the Deep South, piling up big wins in the perennial Democratic bulwarks on both coasts and making deep inroads into New South states, the industrial and agricultural heartland and the fast-growing Rocky Mountain West.

But perhaps most spectacularly, he found victory with a multiracial coalition that has the makings of a formidable political base of power.

If his was the first 21st century campaign, his victory was powered by a new face of America: comprised of all ethnicities, hailing mostly from cities and suburbs, largely under 40 years old, and among all income classes.

As they emphatically proved by obliterating the presidential color line, many of these voters are not guided by traditional cultural attachment to race, religion or region.

What makes his victory so resounding, and so daunting for Republicans, was that he combined support from African-Americans, Jews, and young whites with other key groups. He also reversed President Bush’s advances with Hispanic voters.

Further, and even more worrisome for the GOP, Obama was dominant among self-described “moderate” voters, a 60 percent swath of Americans larger than either self-described liberals or conservatives.

This 21st century coalition allowed Obama to blow out McCain in cities and suburbs where Bush had narrowly won or lost by smaller margins four years ago, and to pull off narrow wins in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana and Ohio.

He ran up huge margins in heavily-black cities and counties in each, but was able to edge out McCain thanks to big wins in populous, racially-mixed localities like Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County (59 percent), Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County (62 percent), Orlando’s Orange County (59 percent), Indianapolis’s Marion County (64 percent) and Columbus’s Franklin County (59 percent).

The coalition underscored the theme that made Obama famous in 2004, and one that he returned to in his victory speech, citing his support from “young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled—Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.”

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