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Natalie De La Cruz
AP Government & Politics
September 9, 2009
Epic Journey: The 2008 Elections and American Politics
1) “The Scope and Meaning of the Democratic Victory”
1. To what extent does the election of Barack Obama indicate an end to the “Reagan
era”? What does that mean and what indicators are there as evidence?
The election of Barack Obama represents a new era of democratic
dominance, dissimulating the influence of the “Reagan era.” The “Reagan era”
refers to the way Reagan built a potent electoral coalition that made the
Republicans much more competitive for the presidency, both houses of congress,
and state governments than before his presidency. The Republican Party showed
competence in both foreign and domestic affairs. During George W. Bush’s
second term, republicans lost reputation in both areas, providing an advantage to
the democrats in the 2008 elections.
2. What is the concept of a party realignment? Why do the authors argue that this is
an exaggerated concept?
The concept of a party realignment refers to a major shift in the relative
support for the two parties within the electorate. The authors believe this is an
exaggerated concept because they argue that an election may provide the
opportunity for change but the resulting shift in party support is only solidified
afterwards, in the people’s judgment of the performance of the party that has won
power. They also state that realignment s only part of the story of electoral
politics; it does not guarantee that the stronger party will win any given future
election. Therefore party realignment can be a misused term and only guarantees
3. What is the evidence arguing for and against 2008 marking a new realignment?
Those that argue for 2008 marking a new realignment emphasize the
“rowing constituency.” Obama during the 2008 election captured the growing
parts of the electorate: Latinos, the youth vote, and professionals. Harold
Meyerson stated; “the future in American politics belongs to the party that can
win a more racially divided, better educated, more metropolitan electorate.”
Many such as Andrew Kohut of the Pew organization believe; “there’s no
indication that ideology drove this election. It was driven by discontent with the
status quo.” In other words, this democratic success was due to the situations and
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crises taking place. Therefore, there will be no guarantee of realignment, until
after Obama term.
4. Explain the six “keys” to Obama`s victory.
There are six keys that operated throughout the campaign and that helped
Obama to achieve victory.
Key # 1: Barack Obama articulated the dominant themes of the 2008
election, which were “change” and “post-partisanship.”
During the elections, there was a lack of appeal; instead, there was a
constant theme of change, and democrats and republicans giving birth to
new ideas together.
Key # 2: Barack Obama was a compelling individual candidate who,
by the end of the campaign, displayed remarkable flexibility.
Throughout his campaign, Obama demonstrated to be not only compelling
but also charismatic. One commentator, Ezra Klein commented Obama`s
speeches were capable of elevating individuals. As the author states, the
closing “argument” from the Obama campaign on personal characteristics
was that Obama was calm under fire. He also maintained a liberal base,
while being flexible.
Key # 3: Barack Obama had an unusually strong and unusually
innovative campaign organization.
A good organization does not only contribute to success, but enjoys
success, contributing to a good organization. A campaign that performs
well and exceeds expectations helps build morale and promote cohesion.
The author also points out that Obama paid a great deal of attention to
organization from the start, recruiting quality staff members early on, and
creating an integrated campaign network across regions.
Key # 4: Barack Obama demonstrated an unprecedented capacity to
raise money- and raise (and spend) it he did.
A capacity to raise money in presidential contests is important, not just for
the things money can buy, such as television and radio ads and salaries for
campaign staff, but for its symbolic value. In the early stages of a
nomination contest, raising money is, by itself, a prime indicator of the
seriousness of a campaign. Obama shattered every fundraising record for a
candidate in a presidential election.
Key # 5: Barack Obama is an African American
Obama`s rhetorical style was inspirational. A multiracial man, he chose
and accepted the identity of an African American. Race provided him with
a crucial base of support inside the Democratic Party, helping him in many
of the primary contests, including such decisive victories as South
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Carolina early on and North Carolina toward the end. Second, race
provided an enormous reservoir of goodwill and a source of moral
authority for Obama, with large parts of the educated white professional
Key # 6: Barack Obama enjoyed very positive coverage by the major
The major media were partial to Barack Obama`s success. Critics argue
that the major media have abandoned their objectivity and have slanted
news and analysis in favor of the democrats. Obama the author explains
was seen as the new kid on the block, the one initially who was “coming
on” from behind, and the one who generated the most interest.
2) “George W. Bush: The Other Candidate”
1. How did George W. Bush go from his success in 2004 to being the weakened
president that he was by the time for the 2008 election arrived? What were the
factors that weakened him?
The George W. Bush success in 2004 to being the weakened president that
he was by the time for the 2008 election was a result of a series of crisis.
Some as social security, immigration, tax, Katrina, and the Iraq war. There
was an ineffectiveness of republican’s unified control of government.
2. Why did the 2006-midterm elections turn into such a debacle for the Republicans?
In 2006, the voting habits of certain key groups were shifted dramatically.
Republicans house candidates suffered particularly steep declines among
male voters, and Hispanic voters. Democrats regained both houses for
3. Explain why there was a stalemate in Bush’s last two years in office.
During Bush’s last two years in office, there was a stalemate. Democrats
with a new majority were frustrated with domestic affairs, as Bush
exercised the veto eleven more times (12 in total). There was a constant
use of check and balances that did not permit many bills and decisions to
4. How did the Bush presidency set the stage for the 2008 election?
Bush’s presidency caused uncertainty among the Republican Party for the
2008 elections. Although democrats had an advantage, they were not free
of worries. Republicans on the other hand, could not make any errors in
the 2008 elections.
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3) “The Republican Nomination Contest”
1. The authors divide the candidates for the GOP nomination into three groups.
What are those three groups and how did this indicate the weaknesses in the
The three groups in the GOP nomination are the compassionate
conservatives, the conventional conservatives, and the electable national security
hawks. Neither group was flexible enough, for example the compassionate
conservatives only appealed to socially conservative, economically downscale
voters whose politics were most driven by their faith. The conventional
conservatives appealed to those republicans that were conservative in economics,
social and cultural manners, and national security. The electable national security
hawks primary focus was national security.
2. What is “frontloading” and what was its impact on the nomination process?
Frontloading if the process by which delegates selection contests have
been increasingly compressed toward the beginning of the primary and
caucus calendar. Altogether, a large percentage of primary delegates that
were chosen by the end of the fourth week, many analysts assumed that
this front-loading would produce an early decision; this though did not
turn out this way for democrats.
3. What is the concept of the “invisible primary” and how did it affect the
The “invisible primary” refers to the “exhibition process.” This caused a
fight over fundraising, straw polls, and ground organization.
4. How did the schedule of caucus and primary elections influence the outcome?
The schedule of caucus and primary elections caused an important contest
to be fought without a clear sense of the other party’s nominees.
5. Why did John McCain go from being counted out to getting a second look?
McCain cut back costs and returned to a successful topic, the “No
Surrender Tour.” This caused media to reiterate their attention to McCain.
6. Why was McCain the “strategic winner” of Iowa and why did he go into the lead
after New Hampshire?
McCain was the strategically winner of Iowa because events in Pakistan
increased national security concerns in his favor; and McCain did twice as
well among independents as among republicans. New Hampshire was a
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much cooler territory, and he received endorsements from the Manchester
Union Leader, the largest newspaper in the state. Although Concord
Monitor did not endorse him, it attacked Romney. This caused McCain to
win 38% of the primary vote, while Romney won 32%.
7. What is the importance of the expectations game and doing better or worse than
expected in the nomination contests? Give examples.
The expectations game is a battle between candidates, whose image is at
play. For example, McCain in New Hampshire was expected to last; his
success gained him more attention from the media and security. Doing
worse than expected like Huckabee in South Carolina, can drive a
campaign into a dead end, causing bad publicity and polls to turn against
8. Why did Giuliani flame out? What did his failure say about the importance of the
schedule of the elections?
Giuliani decided to be absent from the fray in Iowa, New Hampshire,
Michigan, and South Carolina, when he finally decided to join the run in
Florida, it was too late. Giuliani placed a third with 15%, a downfall for
his campaign. The schedule of the elections is very fast, and can cause
9. What was the importance of winner-take-all rules for McCain’s victory?
McCain won all the biggest states, including California, New York, New
Jersey, Illinois, and Missouri, most by wide margins. Most of the states he
won were winner takes all statewide, or winner takes all by congressional
district, allowing him to rack up a huge delegate advantage.
10. Explain why McCain won the nomination?
McCain did not only win crucial states, but nine from 21 delegates on
Super Tuesday. He also benefited from the swell of media coverage and
the success of the Surge in Iraq maintained his popularity.
4) “The Democratic Nomination Contest”
1. Why did the 2008 election present an opportunity for a relatively inexperienced
leader such as Barack Obama?
He was an African American liberal, a former president of the Harvard
Law Review, and a gifted rhetorician. Obama`s inexperience was an asset
at the polls, and he represented a “change agent” not bound to make
mistakes from the past.
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2. Explain how the election rules in the democratic contest have changed since 1968.
What changes did the McGovern commission make? What are “super delegates”
and why where they added to the process? What effect did they have? What was
the effect of the rules of proportional representation?
In 1968 party leaders-not, the voters chose convention delegates; this was
changed so that voters could determine the results through primaries and
caucuses. McGovern was the first to win nomination under the new
system. The super delegates composed of party leaders and elected
officials, would make the nominees more accountable for party
organizations and the party in government. One candidate would always
secure the nomination well before the convention, making super delegates
play a secondary role. Proportional representation had two important
potential effects. First, whereas cash-strapped candidates had to focus on
states that they could win outright, well-financed states were allowed to
campaign in states where they were unlikely to finish first.
3. How did frontloading play out for the 2008 election?
New Hampshire’s secretary of state rescheduled his states primary to
January 8. To maintain its customary position ahead of New Hampshire,
Iowa democrats moved their caucuses to January 3. Despite all the efforts
to curb front-loading, the 2008 nomination season had the earliest start in
4. What are the reasons the public financing system had become more and more
The system did not provide payments until January 1 of the election year.
Candidates facing a competitive nomination race feared that they would
tap out their treasuries just being nominated, leaving themselves
vulnerable to opposition attacks during the month long interregnum before
their party convention.
5. What was the role of the internet in the campaign?
The internet not only served for financing, but also consisted of minor
political blogs, and dozens of major ones.
6. How was Obama able to take advantage of the caucus system?
The caucus system favored candidates who could raise huge sums via
websites and bundlers. The system smiled on well-financed candidates
who could spend resources wisely, prepare for the pile up of early contest,
exploit the opportunities of proportional representation, understand the
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uses of new technology, and mount sophisticated efforts to court super
delegates and get regular members supporters to caucuses.
7. Explain the role of the various demographic groups that make up the democratic
11% of Hispanics and 59% of women formed the democrats nationwide,
creating a greater social and economic diversity within the coalition.
8. Who were the various democratic candidates and what were there strengths and
Governor Bill Richardson had an advantage over a fast growing
demographic group, since he was Hispanic and was fluent in Spanish.
Unfortunately, he had made contacts with the Clinton administration, who
Hillary Clinton had already contacted. Also, he was sloppy at preparing
for media and public events. John Edwards had youthful good looks, and
an appealing working background. Unfortunately, he was unwise at
choosing subordinates; he was also accused of having special ties with
9. Why did Barack Obama emerge as the main challenger to Hillary Clinton?
Obama was not only young, African American, and gifted; he was a
symbol of change. They were both controversial runners, and could
therefore shift votes.
10. What happened in 2007 to shape the 2008 campaign?
In 2007, organization began, emphasizing social networking, fundraising,
and volunteers. Strategies and tactics were put into play.
11. What were the Obama and Clinton strategies? How did they appeal to their
Obama`s post Iowa strategy was all about delegate arithmetic. Instead of
trying to run up his total popular vote in big primaries, the campaign
would exploit proportional representation and target districts from which it
could win delegates. Clinton on the contrary won states not delegates. The
strategy consisted of Clinton winning Iowa or New Hampshire (preferably
both), and sweeping the Super Tuesday primaries, and that would cause
the swing of democratic voters and politicians at her favor.
12. Explain how the rule and schedule of the 2008 caucuses and primaries led to
Obama`s victory. What mistakes did Hillary Clinton make?
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The Iowa caucuses consisted of 1,781 meetings in local precincts.
Participants would choose delegates to county conventions, which would
pick delegates to conventions at the congressional district and state levels,
which in turn would select delegates to the national convention. Such a
process required intense involvement by the candidates, and intricate
ground-level organization by their supporters. In this campaign, seven
contenders made 199 visits totaling 533 days. Although the Obama
campaign simply out hustled the slow moving Clinton campaign, he had
certain advantages. Geography permitted Obama`s home state supporters
to ring Iowa doorbells. Timing permitted students from Iowa to caucus,
and it allowed others to travel to Iowa. With the “change” message,
Obama also sought to expand the universe of caucus goers to include non-
traditional targets such as young people, Republicans, and Independents.
13. What role did the super delegates play?
The super delegates and caucuses are the least democratic aspects of the
nomination process. Obama`s two-to-one advantage from the caucus states
helped persuade many of the super delegates that he was an inevitable
14. What role did luck play in Obama`s victory?
Throughout his campaign luck was only a factor to Obama`s success. His
campaign excelled at fundraising and organizing. His rhetorical skills
enabled him to connect with diverse audiences. In addition, despite his Ivy
League degrees, Chicago had taught him the art of political warfare.
5) “The General Election Campaign”
1. Explain Obama and McCain’s strategies.
- Obama`s strategy was formed of two components. First, to remind the
public of its dissatisfaction with George Bush and to tie John McCain to
him. The second component was to make every effort for Obama to clear a
threshold of acceptability for the public.
- McCain’s strategy has three components. The first component was he
trying to separate himself from George W. Bush. Second, McCain had to
offer something that showed his superior fit to be the commander in chief.
Third, McCain had to present a general plan or vision, beyond differences
with Obama on specific issues, of where he intended to lead the nation.
2. Summarize the three periods of the general election that the authors discuss and
analyze the tactics each candidate’s campaign used to carry out their strategies.
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- First Period (from the summer up to the Republican convention):
Democrats worried Obama had left his opponent “hanging around.”
Republicans complained that the McCain campaign jumped from one
thing to another without articulating a coherent idea of what the race was.
- Second Period (the close of the Democratic convention until mid-
September): During this period, McCain caused negative and positive
comments by presenting Sarah Palin as his vice president. All the media’s
attention relied on them, forcing the Obama campaign to react to them.
-Third Period (mid-September): The financial crisis caused Obama to
move to the front and remain there.
3. What effect did the financial crisis have on the election? What was the impact of
the debates on the campaign?
- The 2008 election was operating within a new and different universe in
which only one issue mattered: the economy. The author specifies this
event as the “perfect” event for Obama. The author views the first debate
as a situation in which Obama just had to avoid mistakes, giving McCain
no big point or issue to develop, showing he is presidential. This placed
Obama at the lead.
4. Explain the authors` analysis of the turnout rate and the role of the winner-take-all
system in the 2008 election.
-The turnout rate- based on considering the relation of actual voters to
eligible voters- has been estimated to at 61.6 percent, which was a slight
rise (1.5 percent) from 2004 and represents the highest rate sine 1968.
-A couple of the states that became newly competitive and that Obama
won, North Carolina and Virginia, saw unusually high increases in voter
5. How do the results from 2008 set up future electoral battles?
-There has been a struggle between Democrats and Republicans
throughout the past three elections.
-Geography is everything in American presidential politics because of
how electoral votes are counted. All states, except Maine and Nebraska,
award their electoral votes by a winner-take-all system. The name of the
game is therefore to win states.
6) “Congressional and State Elections”
1. How do the authors explain the changes from 2004 to 2008? In general, what
factors helped the Democrats to a victory?
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The Democrats had strong majorities on Capitol Hill and statehouses. The
decline of popularity for the Republican Party provided more seats for the
Democrats. The democrats also had a financial advantage.
2. What are the disadvantages of being the minority party with a president of their
party in a White House?
A retirement usually hurts the party holding a seat, since its new candidate
lacks the advantage of incumbency. When a minority party is facing a bad
election, its members are more likely to leave voluntarily. As more
members head for the exits, there are more open seats for the majority
party to pick up.
3. What strategies did the Democrats use to press their advantages?
Of the dozen Democrats whose seats were up in 2008, no one retired. As
the author states, conversely, members of the majority are more likely to
stick around if they think their party will gain seats or take over the
4. What reasons are there to believe that the Congress is even more polarized than
One reason is that recent election losses removed a large number of
7) “The Future of American Politics and Institutions”
1. What did the election say about the movement to scrap the Electoral College?
Through 2008, critics of the Electoral College continued their efforts to
change the system, either by formally amending the Constitution to
abolish the College or by devising an informal mechanism to work around
it. The “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact” would go into effect
once approved by enough states to reach the 270 electoral votes, the
majority needed to elect a president.
2. What did it say about campaign finance?
The collapse of public financing in the primaries, and the unprecedented
amounts of money raised in that stage of the campaign, led a number of
scholarly experts on campaign finance to ask, “Is the campaign finance
3. What about questions concerning voter registration and voter fraud?
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In April 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 6-3 vote in Crawford v.
Marion County Election Board that states could require voters to present
government issued photo identification as a fraud prevention method.
4. What was the impact of early voting?
In 2008, the Obama campaign poured extraordinary organizational energy
into promoting early voting by identified supporters. The scale of early
voting secured by these efforts was a great organizational achievement by
5. What questions were raised about the primary calendar and caucuses?
The closely related phenomena of primary front loading and increasingly
early starting points drew considerable concern in 2008, with the starting
date for the delegate selection season barely prevented from reaching back
6. What factors do the authors suggest why President Obama will be able to
implement his chosen policies? What facts do they discuss for why this might not
Obama will govern, at least for his two years, with a bigger Senate
majority than any president has enjoyed since Jimmy Carter. Moreover,
the Democratic Party is more homogenous. The interest groups and
advocacy networks backing the democrats are more effective.
7. What possibilities remain for the Republicans in trying to stage a comeback?
Republicans in order to stage a comeback need to broaden and become
more flexible. This can make them the dominating party, establishing the
“Reagan era” once again.