The 2008 Democrat Party primaries ran their full course from January to June.
At the start of 2008, many pollsters believed that Hilary Clinton would win the Democrat Party nomination for presidency with a degree of ease. She was an experienced Senator whose husband would be able to use his political experience to support her and help her raise the necessary funding that the primary season demands. Her main opponents were seen as being Senator Barak Obama, a Senator from Illinois and John Edwards, who campaigned in the 2004 Democrat primaries. Obama was seen as being inexperienced and somewhat out of his depth while Edwards was criticised in some quarters for announcing his intention to run when his wife was ill – despite her supporting her husband.
In late November 2007 a number of reputable polls gave Mrs Clinton a 20 points lead over Senator Obama. Therefore when the first test came in the caucus held in Iowa in January 2008, expectations were high that Mrs Clinton would take her first step towards winning the Democrat nomination. Not only did she lose to Obama in the first real test her campaign faced, John Edwards pushed Senator Clinton into third place.
Obama won 37.6% of votes cast
Edwards won 29.7% of votes cast
Clinton won 29.5% of votes cast
In the days prior to January 3rd, when the caucus was held, a shift in the polls was noted, which started to predict that Obama would win. This turned out to be the case. By any standards it was a poor start to Clinton’s campaign and an outstanding one for Obama. So what went wrong?
Iowa itself as a state probably was not the ideal place for Clinton to start her campaign as it has never elected a woman to a position of authority before and it was unlikely to buck this trend in January. Post-result studies also showed that despite her campaigning, Clinton failed to attract the support of the young voters who were drawn to Obama’s rhetoric. The only group that Clinton gained most support from was the 65+ age group. Even women as a whole (regardless of age) gave more of their support to Obama by 35% to 30% as did men (35% to 23%) and Black Americans (72% to 16%). While the latter support may not have been unexpected, the sheer scale of it was, especially as Clinton in her early years was associated with the civil rights campaign in the South. Clinton also surrounded herself with established politicians – people associated with the past – such as Madeleine Albright, a former Secretary of State, and General Wesley Clark, a former head of NATO. While people such as these brought a political pedigree to her team, they were also seen as Clinton being linked to past as opposed to moving towards the future. Obama’s team was seen as being younger and more attuned to the present. In his speeches in Iowa, Obama frequently referred to the future of America and this seems to have hit a chord.
The last thing that Senator Clinton needed to start her campaign was a defeat. Parts of the American media referred to it as a “humiliation”. The next contest Obama and Clinton had to fight out was New Hampshire.
However, in one of the most unpredictable Democrat primary seasons in years, Clinton won in New Hampshire. Areas of the media that had written her off after Iowa, now wrote about a political renaissance. Senator Clinton’s 3% victory over Senator Obama had not been predicted in the polls carried out immediately before voting.
Clinton won 39% of votes cast
Obama won 36% of votes cast
Edwards won 17% of votes cast
Clinton was named the ‘Comeback Gal’ by some sections in the media. Post-result analysis showed that Senator Clinton gained far more support from women in New Hampshire than in Iowa (46% support for Clinton and 34% for Obama). One other group that overwhelmingly supported Clinton in New Hampshire was those with an income of less than $50,000 a year. Here she defeated Obama by 47% to 32%.
Clinton’s victory even took her campaign team by surprise:
“Nobody predicted this and we’re going to enjoy it for at least 10 to 15 minutes before we plot out the next course.” Howard Wolfson, Communications Director.
So why was Senator Clinton successful in New Hampshire after her defeat in Iowa and at a time when the ‘bounce’ Obama got after Iowa should have stood him in good stead?
Some pundits believed that Senator Clinton had been too ‘imperial’ in her campaigning in Iowa and that this had put off the voting public. In New Hampshire, Clinton appeared to be far less arrogant and more vulnerable. The media made great play out of a conversation Clinton held with an undecided Democrat voter called Marianne Pernold-Young. When asked, “How do you do it? How do you keep it up?” Clinton replied: “You know, this is very personal for me. It’s not just political; it’s just not public. I see what is happening, and we have to reverse it.” The ‘Daily Telegraph’ claimed that it was an “extraordinary moment” and that this one much shown conversation got the support of many of the 33% of Democrats in New Hampshire who had not made up their minds with regards to the candidates.
Obama was criticised by some for making speeches that were high on rhetoric but low on actual policy. He urged the Democrats in New Hampshire to “reach for that world you know in your gut is possible” and “we will remake this nation and we will remake this world.” Obama got the support that the polls predicted at 36%. What they had not predicted was how well Clinton would do.
After New Hampshire, the impetus returned to Senator Clinton. However, she hit a major problem when the DNC refused to accept the results from Michigan and Florida. Both state parties had moved forward their primaries from a previously stated date, which could not be before February 5th. This was against national party rules. The expectation was that Clinton would win many delegates in both states, so the ruling hit her a lot harder than Obama.
‘Super Tuesday’ has traditionally been held in March. However, for the 2008 primaries it moved into February and became ‘Super-Duper Tuesday’. The new nickname came about because twenty-two states held their primaries on this day – from California, which had 441 delegates to Alaska, which had just 18 delegates. In total, 2064 delegates were ‘up for grabs’ and it is usually true to state that after ‘Super Tuesday’ those campaigning know whether they are on a winning course or not. However, this was not the case for the Democrats after all the results were announced. Both Clinton and Obama could still win the party’s nomination – hence the contest continued.
A swing one way to Obama then a swing to the Clinton became the norm. Both candidates had a chance of winning right up to the last two primaries held on June 3rd, though Obama was viewed as the favourite as the campaign neared its end. After the results of Montana and South Dakota were announced on June 4th, it became clear that finally Obama had cleared the number of delegates he needed to win the Democrat primaries. On paper, Obama needed 2,118 delegates. By June 4th, he had 2181 compared to Clinton’s 1919.
On Friday June 6th, Clinton met her campaign team for an end-of-campaign party and publicly announced that she was conceding on June 7th when she also gave her support and backing to Obama in his campaign against his Republican opponent, John McCain.