The 56th quadrennial
was held on November 4, 2008. Outgoing Republican
George W. Bush
's policies and actions and the American
public's desire for change were key issues throughout the campaign,
and during the general election campaign, both major party
candidates ran on a platform of change and reform in Washington.
and the economy
eventually emerged as the main themes in the last few months of the
election campaign, particularly after the onset of the 2008 economic crisis
Democrat Barack Obama, then junior United States Senator from Illinois, defeated
Republican John McCain, the senior
United States Senator from Arizona.
states changed allegiance from the 2004 election
Each had voted for the Republican nominee in 2004 and contributed
to Obama's sizable Electoral College
selected electors from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia voted for President and Vice President of the United
States on December 15, 2008.
Those votes were tallied
before a joint session of
on January 8, 2009. Obama received 365 electoral
votes, and McCain 173.
There were several unique aspects of the 2008 election. The
election was the first in which an African American was elected
President, and the first time a Roman
was elected Vice President (Joe
, then-U.S. Senator from Delaware).
was also the first time two sitting senators ran against each
other. The 2008 election was the first in 56 years in which neither
an incumbent president nor a vice president ran — Bush was barred
from seeking a third term by the Twenty-second
; Dick Cheney
chose not to
seek the presidency. It was also the first time the Republican Party nominated
a woman for Vice President (Sarah Palin,
then-Governor of Alaska).
Voter turnout for the 2008 election was the highest in at least 40
President George W. Bush
defeating the Democratic
. After Republican pickups in the House
the 2004 elections, Republicans maintained control of both the
executive and legislative branches of the federal government.
Bush's approval ratings had been slowly declining from their high
point of almost 90% after 9/11
and they were barely 50% by his reelection. Although Bush was
reelected with a larger Electoral College margin than in 2000
, during his
second term, Bush's approval rating dropped more quickly, with the
and the federal response to
in 2005 being
most detrimental to the public's perception of his job
By September 2006, Bush's approval rating was below 40%, and in the
, Democrats gained the majority in both
houses. Bush's approval ratings continued to drop steadily
throughout the rest of his term.
In the United States, there are two major political parties
, the Democratic Party
There are also several minor parties, usually called third parties,
who have not won a presidential election since 1864
. Most media
and public focus is on the two major parties.
Each party hosts a number of candidates who go through a nomination
process to determine the presidential nominee
for that party.
nomination process consists of primaries and caucuses,
held by the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.
The winner of each of these primary
elections usually receives a number of delegates proportional to
the percentage of the popular vote that candidate received in each
states. Whichever candidate has the majority of the available
delegates at the end of the primary elections is designated the
until he or
she is formally nominated and endorsed for the presidency by his or
her political party. This is done by the aforementioned delegates
for each party.
Democratic Party nomination
- Barack Obama, U.S. Senator from Illinois
- Hillary Clinton, U.S.
Senator from New York
- John Edwards, former U.S.
Richardson, Governor of New Mexico
- Dennis Kucinich, U.S.
Representative from Ohio
- Joe Biden, U.S. Senator from Delaware
- Mike Gravel, former U.S. Senator
- Christopher Dodd, U.S.
- Tom Vilsack,
former Governor of Iowa
- Evan Bayh, U.S. Senator from Indiana
File:Official portrait of Barack
Barack Obama of
Clinton official Secretary of State portrait crop.jpg|Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
New York (campaign
)Image:John Edwards, official Senate photo
portrait.jpg|Former Senator and
2004 vice-presidential nominee John
Edwards of North Carolina (campaign)Image:Bill_Richardson_at_an_event_in_Kensington,_New_Hampshire,_March_18,_2006.jpg|Governor
Bill Richardson of
Mexico (campaign)Image:Dennis Kucinich.jpg|Representative
Dennis Kucinich of
Ohio (campaign)File:Joe Biden official portrait
Joe Biden of Delaware (campaign)
Senator Mike Gravel
of Alaska (campaign
of Connecticut (campaign)File:Tom Vilsack, official USDA photo
Tom Vilsack of Iowa (campaign)File:Evan Bayh official
Bayh of Indiana (campaign)
Before the primaries
Media speculation began almost immediately after the results of the
became known. In these elections, the Democrats
regained majorities in both houses of Congress
. Early polls taken before
anyone had announced a candidacy had shown Senators Hillary Clinton
and Barack Obama
as the most popular potential
Democratic candidates. Nevertheless, the media speculated on
several other candidates, including Al Gore
the runner-up in the 2000 election
, the runner-up in the 2004 election
, his running mate
; Delaware Senator Joseph Biden;
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack; and
Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.
Edwards was one of the first to formally announce his candidacy for
the presidency, on December 28, 2006. This run would be his second
attempt at the presidency. Clinton announced intentions to run in
the Democratic primaries on January 20, 2007. Obama announced his
candidacy on February 10 in his home state of Illinois. None of the
candidates received a significant bounce in their poll numbers
after their official announcements. Through most of 2007, even
after it was evident Al Gore would not run, John Edwards and Al
Gore each hovered between the third and fourth place spots in the
polls behind Clinton and Obama.
"Front-runner" status is dependent on the news agency reporting,
and by October 2007, the consensus listed the three aforementioned
candidates as leading the pack after several debate performances.
The Washington Post
listed Clinton, Edwards and Obama as the front-runners, "leading in
polls and fundraising and well ahead of the other major
candidates". Clinton led in nearly all
nationwide opinion polling
until January 2008.
Stephen Colbert mounted his own campaign
for the nomination in his home state of South Carolina, announcing it in October 2007.
Opinion Strategies conducted a poll and found Colbert nationally in
fifth place at 2.3% behind Sen. Joseph Biden's 2.7%
The early primaries and caucuses are considered the most critical
of nomination process. Most candidates lacking support drop out
after doing poorly in the Iowa
and New Hampshire
, and these states' results often shift national
preferences, according to historical polling data. The states that
hold early primaries and caucuses are, chronologically, Iowa, New
Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. In 2008, Florida and
Michigan moved their primaries into January against the Democratic
Party's rules, and the results of these primaries were discounted
and disputed until after the rest of the contests occurred.
At the start of the year, support for Barack Obama began rising in
the polls, passing Clinton for first place in Iowa; Obama ended up
winning the Iowa caucus, with John Edwards coming in second and
Clinton in third. Obama's win was fueled mostly by first time
caucus-goers and Independents
and showed voters viewed him as the candidate of change. Iowa is
viewed as the state that jump-started Obama's campaign and set him
on track to win the nomination and the presidency. After the Iowa
caucus, Joe Biden
and Christopher Dodd
withdrew from the
Obama became the new front-runner in New Hampshire when his poll
numbers skyrocketed after his victory in Iowa. The Clinton campaign
was struggling after a bad loss in Iowa and no real strategy beyond
the early primaries and caucuses. According to The Vancouver Sun
strategists had mapped a victory scenario that envisioned the
former first lady wrapping up the Democratic presidential
nomination by Super Tuesday on Feb. 5." In what is considered a
turning point for her campaign, Clinton's voice wavered with
emotion in a public interview broadcast live on TV. By the end of
that day, Clinton won the primary by 2% of the vote, contrary to
the predictions of pollsters who consistently had her trailing
Obama for a few days up to the primary date, after his poll numbers
skyrocketed at the end of December 2007. On January 30, 2008, after
placing in third in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries,
Edwards announced that he was suspending his campaign for the
presidency, but he did not initially endorse any remaining
February 5, 2008, during which the largest-ever number of
simultaneous state primary
held. Super Tuesday ended leaving the Democrats in a virtual tie,
with Obama amounting 847 delegates to Clinton's 834 from the 23
states that held Democratic primaries.
on February 3 on the UCLA campus, celebrities Oprah
Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy and
Stevie Wonder, among others, made
appearances to show support for Barack Obama in a rally led by
California Governor Arnold
's wife, Maria
, endorsed Obama. California
was one of
the Super Tuesday states that was rich in delegates. Obama trailed
in the California polling by an average of 6.0% before the primary;
he ended up losing the state by 8.3%. Some analysts cited a large
turnout that voted for Clinton as the
Louisiana, Washington, Nebraska, Hawaii, Wisconsin,
, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and
Virginia primaries and the Maine caucus all took place after Super
Tuesday in February. Obama won all of them, giving him ten
consecutive victories after Super Tuesday.
March and April contests
On March 4, Hillary Clinton carried Ohio
and Rhode Island
Democratic primaries; some considered these wins, especially Ohio,
a surprise upset, although she led in the polling averages in both
states. She also carried the primary in
, but Obama won the Texas caucuses held the same day and
netted more delegates from the state than Clinton.
Only one state held a primary in April. This was Pennsylvania
, on April
22. Although Obama made a strong effort to win Pennsylvania,
Hillary Clinton won the primary by nearly 10%, with approximately
55% of the vote. Obama had outspent Clinton three to one in
Pennsylvania, but his comment at a San Francisco fundraiser that
small-town Americans "cling" to guns and religion drew sharp
criticism from the Clinton campaign and may have hurt his chances
in the Keystone State. In addition, Clinton had several advantages
in Pennsylvania. Throughout the primary process, she relied on the
support of older, white, working class voters. Pennsylvania held a
closed primary, which means that only registered Democrats could
vote, and, according to Ron Elving of NPR
established Democratic electorate was older, whiter, more Catholic
and more working-class than in most of the primaries to date."
After Pennsylvania, Obama was still in a stronger position than
Clinton to win the nomination, with a higher number of delegates
and popular votes, but Clinton still had received the endorsement
of more superdelegates.
Indiana and North Carolina
On May 6, North
Democratic presidential primaries. Clinton and Obama campaigned
aggressively in both states before the voting took place; both
candidates acknowledged the importance of these primaries and said
they were turning point states which could make or break either of
their campaigns. Polling had shown Obama a few points ahead in
North Carolina and Clinton similarly leading in Indiana. In the
actual results, Obama outperformed the polls by several points in
both states, winning by a significant margin in North Carolina and
losing by only 1.1% in Indiana (50.56% to 49.44%). After these
primaries, most pundits declared that it had become increasingly
improbable, if not impossible, for Clinton to win the nomination;
the small win in Indiana barely kept her campaign alive for the
next month. Although she did manage to win the majority of the
remaining primaries and delegates, it was not enough to overcome
Obama's substantial delegate lead.
Florida and Michigan
During late 2007, both parties adopted rules against states' moving
their primaries to an earlier date in the year. For the
Republicans, the penalty for this violation was supposed to be the
loss of half the state party's delegates to the convention. The
Democratic penalty was the complete exclusion from the national
convention of delegates from states that broke these rules. The
Democratic Party allowed only four states to hold elections before
February 5, 2008. Initially, the Democratic leadership said it
would strip all delegates from Florida and Michigan, which had moved their primaries into
In addition, all major Democratic candidates agreed
officially not to campaign in Florida or Michigan, and Edwards and
Obama removed their names from the Michigan ballot. Clinton won a
majority of delegates and popular votes from both states (though
40% voted uncommitted in Michigan) and subsequently led a fight to
seat all the Florida and Michigan delegates.
Political columnist Christopher Weber noted that while her action
was self-serving, it was also pragmatic to forestall Florida or
Michigan voters becoming so disaffected they did not vote for
Democrats in the general election. There was some speculation that
the fight over the delegates could last until the convention in
August. On May 31, 2008, the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the
Democratic Party reached a compromise on the Florida and Michigan
delegate situation. The committee decided to seat delegates from
Michigan and Florida at the convention in August, but to only award
each a half-vote.
Clinching the nomination
Technically the nomination process for major political parties
continues through June of election year. In previous cycles the
candidates were effectively chosen by the end of the March
primaries. However, Barack Obama did not win enough delegates to
secure the nomination until June 3, after a 17-month-long campaign
against Hillary Clinton. Obama had a wide lead in the number of
states won, while Clinton had won majorities in several of the
larger states. Because Democratic state delegate contests were
decided by a form of proportional representation
popular vote numbers were close between Clinton and Obama, the
contest for the nomination continued into June 2008. By May,
Clinton claimed a lead in the popular vote, but the Associated Press
found her numbers accurate
only in one close scenario.
In June, after the last of the primaries had taken place, Obama
secured the Democratic nomination for President, with the help of
multiple super delegate endorsements (most of the super delegates
had refused to cast their votes until the primaries were
completed). He was the first African American to win the nomination
of a major political party in the United States. For several days,
Clinton refused to concede the race, although she signaled her
presidential campaign was ending in a post-primary speech on June 3
in her home state of New York. She finally conceded the nomination
to Obama on June 7. She pledged her full support to the presumptive
nominee and vowed to do everything she could to help him get
Republican Party nomination
Not only was 2008 the first election since 1952
president nor the incumbent
vice president was a candidate in the general election, but it was
also the first time since the 1928 election
neither sought his party's nomination for president. Since term
limits prevented Bush from seeking the nomination and being a
candidate, the unique aspect was vice-president Cheney's decision
not to seek the Republican nomination. This left the Republican
field just as open to a wide field of new candidates as the
- John McCain, U.S. Senator from Arizona
- Mike Huckabee,
former Governor of Arkansas
- Mitt Romney,
former Governor of Massachusetts
- Ron Paul, U.S. Representative from
- Fred Thompson, former U.S.
- Duncan Hunter, U.S. Representative from
- Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New
- Alan Keyes, former U.S. Ambassador from
- Sam Brownback, U.S. Senator from Kansas
- Jim Gilmore,
former Governor of Virginia
- Tom Tancredo, former U.S.
Representative from Colorado
Thompson, former Governor of Wisconsin
Image:John McCain official portrait
John McCain of Arizona (campaign)Image:Huckabee-SF-CC-024.jpg|Former
Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas (campaign)Image:Mitt Romney.jpg|Former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts (campaign)Image:Ron_Paul,_official_Congressional_photo_portrait,_2007.jpg|Representative
Ron Paul of Texas (campaign)Image:Fred_Thompson.jpg|Former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee (campaign)Image:DuncanHunter.jpg|Representative
Duncan Hunter of
Alan Keyes of Maryland (campaign)Image:Sam_Brownback_official_portrait_3.jpg|Senator
Sam Brownback of
KansasImage:Jim Gilmore 2004 NSTAC.jpg|Former
Governor Jim Gilmore of Virginia (campaign)Image:Tom_Tancredo,_official_Congressional_photo.jpg|Representative
Tom Tancredo of
Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin (campaign)
Before the primaries
Immediately after the 2006 midterm elections, media pundits began
speculating, like they did about the Democrats, about potential
Republican candidates for President in 2008. In November 2006,
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph
led in the polls, followed closely by Arizona Senator
. The media speculated that
stance on abortion
and McCain's age and support of the
unpopular Iraq War
would be detriments to
their candidacies. Giuliani remained the frontrunner in the
polls throughout most of 2007, with McCain and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson
fighting for second place. Arkansas Governor Mike
Huckabee, Giuliani, Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney,
and Texas Congressman
Ron Paul announced their candidacies on
January 28, February 5, February 13, and March 12,
McCain officially announced his candidacy on
March 1, 2007, after several informal announcements. In the third
quarter of 2007, the top four GOP (Republican) fund raisers were
Romney, Giuliani, Thompson, and Ron Paul
MSNBC's Chuck Todd christened Giuliani and John McCain
the front runners after the second
Republican presidential debate in early 2007.
Huckabee, after winning in Iowa, had little money and hoped for a
third-place finish in New Hampshire. McCain eventually displaced
Rudy Giuliani and Romney as the front-runner in New Hampshire
staged a turnaround victory, having been written off by the pundits
and polling in single digits less than a month before the
With the Republicans stripping Michigan and Florida of half their
delegates for moving their primaries into January 2008 against
party rules, the race for the nomination was based there. McCain
meanwhile managed a small victory over Huckabee in South Carolina
setting him up for a larger and more important victory over Romney
held a closed primary on January 29. By this time, after several
scandals, no success in the early primaries, and a third place
finish in Florida, Giuliani conceded from the nomination race and
endorsed John McCain the next day.
February, McCain, besides winning Giuliani's support, was endorsed
by California Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger before the California primary took
place on Super Tuesday.
This gave him a significant boost in
the polls for the state's primary, which awarded the greatest
number of delegates of all the states. On Super Tuesday, McCain won
his home state of Arizona, taking all 53 delegates, and the largest
of the Super Tuesday prizes, nearly all of California's 173
delegates. McCain also scored wins in seven other states, picking
up a total of 574 delegates. Huckabee was the "surprise performer",
winning five states and 218 delegates. Romney won seven states and
231 delegates. Two days later, Romney suspended his presidential
campaign, saying that if he stayed in the race, he would "forestall
the launch of a national campaign and be making it easier for
Senator Clinton or Obama to win". His departure left Huckabee and
Paul as McCain's only major challengers in the remaining primaries
and caucuses. Romney endorsed McCain on February 14.
Louisiana, Washington, Kansas
, and Washington
primaries in February after Super Tuesday. Despite McCain picking
up big victories, Huckabee won Louisiana and Kansas while McCain
only barely carried the Washington caucuses over Huckabee and Paul
who both amassed a large showing. The Virgin
and Puerto Rico
February for the Republicans. After Super Tuesday, John McCain had
become the clear front runner, but by the end of February he still
had not acquired enough delegates to secure the nomination. In
March, John McCain clinched the Republican nomination after
sweeping all four primaries, Texas
, and Rhode Island
him over the top of the 1,191 delegates required to win the GOP
nomination. Mike Huckabee then conceded the race to McCain, leaving
Ron Paul, who had just 16 delegates, as his only remaining active
Along with the Democratic and Republican parties, three other
parties nominated candidates with ballot access in enough states to
win the minimum 270 electoral votes needed to win the election.
These were the Constitution Party
, and the
The Constitution Party nominated writer, pastor, and conservative
talk show host Chuck Baldwin
President, and attorney Darrell
of Tennessee for Vice President. While campaigning,
Baldwin voiced his opposition to the Iraq
, the Sixteenth
, Roe v. Wade
, the IRS
, and the Federal Reserve
The Green Party nominated former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney
of Georgia for President,
and political activist Rosa Clemente
from New York for Vice President. McKinney campaigned on a platform
that supported single-payer universal health care, the withdrawal
of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, reparations for
African Americans, and the creation of a Department of Peace.
The Libertarian Party nominated former Republican Congressman
of Georgia for President, and his
former rival for the Libertarian nomination Wayne Allyn Root
, for Vice President.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barr advocated a reworking
or abolishment of the income tax
and opposed the
war in Iraq and the Patriot
23–26, 2008: 2008
Constitution Party National Convention held in Kansas City,
23–26, 2008: 2008
Libertarian National Convention, held in Denver,
10–13, 2008: 2008 Green
Party National Convention, held in Chicago, Illinois.
18–20, 2008: 2008 Reform Party
National Convention, held in Dallas, Texas.
- August 25–28, 2008: 2008 Democratic National
Convention, held in Denver, Colorado.
- September 1–4, 2008: 2008 Republican National
Convention, held in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
General election campaign
The 2008 election campaign brought a number of firsts in United
States presidential election history. It was the first presidential
election since 1952
neither the incumbent
president nor the
incumbent vice president was a candidate in the general election.
In addition, John McCain became the oldest first-time presidential
nominee in history when the Republicans nominated him in September
2008. His running mate, Sarah Palin
the first woman nominated for Vice President by the Republican
Party. Barack Obama and McCain are nearly 25 years apart in age.
This is the largest age disparity between the two major party
presidential candidates in history, surpassing Bill Clinton
(23 years apart in age), who ran against each other in
election would mark the first time that candidates from both major
parties were born outside the continental United States with
Barack Obama born in Hawaii and John McCain who was born in the
Yet another first was that, for the first
time in history, both major party nominees were sitting United
One of the most talked about firsts in this election was Obama's
possible, and then actual, nomination by the Democratic Party. On
August 28, 2008, when Obama formally accepted the Democratic
nomination for President, he became the first African American to
be nominated for President by a major political party. Obama's
nomination acceptance speech drew one of the largest attendances of
any nomination acceptance speech, attracting at least 84,000
The unpopular war in Iraq
was a key issue
during the campaign before the economic
. John McCain supported the war while Barack Obama
opposed it from the outset because there was no credible evidence
that Iraq was tied to Al-Qaeda
September 11, 2001 attacks
was responsible for. The Bush Administration based its case to
invade Iraq on the premise of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq,
claiming it was necessary to launch an immediate military strike
for fear of Iraq possibly handing weapons of mass destruction
to Al Qaeda
. Though McCain meant it as a
peacetime presence like the United States maintained in Germany and
Japan after World War II
, his statement
that the United States could be in Iraq for as much as the next 50
to 100 years would prove costly as Obama used the statement against
him as part of his strategy to tie him to the unpopular President
John McCain's support for the troop 'surge' employed by General
, which was one of
several factors credited with improving the security situation in
Iraq, may have boosted McCain's stance on the issue in voters'
minds. McCain (who supported the invasion) argued that his support
for the successful surge showed his superior judgment, whereas
Obama (who opposed the surge) argued that his opposition to the
invasion that preceded the surge showed his. However, Obama was
quick to remind voters that there would have been no need for a
"surge" had there been no war at all, which he then used to
question McCain's judgment as well.
Entering 2008, George W. Bush was very unpopular, with polls
consistently showing that only twenty to thirty percent of the
American public approved of his job performance. In March 2008,
McCain was endorsed by Bush at the White House, but Bush did not
make a single appearance for McCain during the campaign. Although
he supported the war in Iraq, McCain made an effort to show that he
had disagreed with Bush on many other key issues such as climate
change. During the entire general election campaign, Obama
countered by pointing out in ads and at numerous campaign rallies
that McCain had claimed in an interview that he voted with Bush 90%
of the time, and this was supported by the congressional voting
records for the years Bush was in office.
Change vs. experience
Barack Obama and John McCain, together on March 4, 2009, a month
and a half after Obama's inauguration.
Before the Democratic primaries had even begun, the dichotomy of
change versus experience had already become a common theme in the
presidential campaign, with Senator Hillary Clinton
as the candidate with experience and Obama embracing the
characterization as the candidate most able to bring change to
Washington. Before the official launch of her campaign
for Clinton were already planning to position her as the 'change'
candidate, as strategist Mark Penn
clear in an October 2006 memo titled "The Plan." In his
presidential run announcement, Obama framed his candidacy by
emphasizing that "Washington must change." In response to this,
Clinton adopted her experience as a major campaign theme. By early
and mid-2007, polls regularly found voters identifying Clinton as
the more experienced candidate and Obama as the "fresh" or "new"
candidate. Exit polls on Super Tuesday
found that while Obama won voters who thought that the ability to
bring change was the most important quality in a candidate, who
made up a majority of the Democratic electorate, by a margin of
about 2-1, Clinton was able to make up for this deficiency by an
almost total domination among voters who thought experience was the
most important quality. These margins generally remained the same
until Obama clinched the Democratic nomination on June 3.
John McCain quickly adopted similar campaign themes against Obama
at the start of the general election campaign. Polls regularly
found the general electorate as a whole divided more evenly between
'change' and 'experience' as candidate qualities than the
Democratic primary electorate, which split in favor of 'change' by
a nearly 2-1 margin. Advantages for McCain and Obama on experience
and the ability to bring change, respectively, remained steady
through the November 4 election, although final pre-election
polling found that voters considered Obama's inexperience less of
an impediment than McCain's association with sitting President
George W. Bush, an association which was rhetorically framed by the
Obama campaign throughout the election season as "more of the
McCain appeared to undercut his line of attack by picking
first-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin
to be his running mate. Palin had been governor only since 2006, and
before that had been a council member and mayor of Wasilla.
Nonetheless, she excited much of the
conservative base of the GOP with her speech at the 2008 Republican National
, a group that was initially lukewarm toward McCain's
candidacy. However, media interviews suggested that Palin lacked
knowledge on certain key issues, and they cast doubt among many
voters about her qualifications to be Vice President or President.
In addition, because of Palin's conservative views, there was also
concern that, while she would bring conservatives to McCain, she
would also alienate independents and moderates, two groups that
pundits observed McCain would need to win the election.
Polls taken in the last few months of the presidential campaign as
well as exit polls conducted on election day showed the economy as
the top concern for voters. In the fall of 2008, many news sources
were reporting that the economy was suffering its most serious
downturn since the Great
. During this period John McCain's election prospects
fell with several politically costly comments about the
On August 20, John McCain said in an interview with Politico that
he was uncertain how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, owned; "I
think — I'll have my staff get to you." Both on the stump and
in Obama's political ad, "Seven", the gaffe was used to portray
McCain as unable to relate to the concerns of ordinary Americans.
This out-of-touch image was further cultivated when, on September
15, the day of the Lehman
, at a morning rally in Jacksonville,
Florida, McCain declared that "the fundamentals of our economy are
strong," despite what he described as "tremendous turmoil in our
financial markets and Wall Street." With the perception among
voters to the contrary, the comment appeared to cost McCain
On September 24, 2008, after the onset of the 2008 financial crisis
McCain announced that he was suspending his campaign to return to
Washington to help craft a $700 billion bailout package for the
troubled financial industry, and he stated that he would not debate
Obama until Congress passed the bailout bill. Despite this
decision, McCain was portrayed as not playing a significant role in
the negotiations for the first version of the bill, which fell
short of passage in the House. He eventually decided to attend the
first presidential debate on September 26, despite Congress' lack
of immediate action on the bill. His ineffectiveness in the
negotiations and his reversal in decision to attend the debates was
seized upon to portray McCain as erratic in his response to the
economy. Days later, a second version of the original bailout bill
was passed by both the House and Senate, with Obama, his vice
presidential running mate Joe Biden
McCain all voting for the measure.
All the aforementioned remarks and campaign issues hurt McCain's
standing with voters. All these also occurred after the economic
crisis and after McCain's poll numbers had started to fall.
Although soundbites of all of these "missteps" were played
repeatedly on national television, most pundits and analysts agree
that it was the actual financial crisis and economic conditions
that caused McCain's large drop in support in mid-September and
severely damaged his campaign.
Four debates were announced by the Commission on Presidential
- September 26: The first presidential debate
took place at the University of Mississippi. The central issues debated were supposed to
be foreign policy and national security. However, due to the
economic climate, some questions appeared on this topic. The debate
was formatted into nine nine-minute segments, and the moderator,
Jim Lehrer of PBS, introduced the topics.
- October 2: The vice-presidential debate was
hosted at Washington University in St.
Louis, and was moderated by Gwen
Ifill of PBS.
- October 7: The second presidential debate
took place at Belmont
University. It was a town meeting format debate
moderated by NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and addressed issues raised by
members of the audience, particularly the economy.
- October 15: The third and final presidential
debate was hosted at Hofstra University. It focused on domestic and economic policy.
Like the first presidential debate, it was formatted into a number
of segments, with moderator Bob
Schieffer introducing the topics.
Another debate was sponsored by the Columbia University
political union and
took place there on October 19. All candidates who could
theoretically win the 270 electoral votes needed to win the
election were invited, and Ralph Nader
, and Chuck Baldwin
agreed to attend. Amy Goodman
, principal host of Democracy Now!
, moderated. It was
broadcast on cable by C-SPAN
and on the
Internet by Break-the-Matrix.
The reported cost of campaigning for president has increased
significantly in recent years. One source reported that if the
costs for both Democratic and Republican campaigns were added
together (for the presidential primary election, general election,
and the political conventions), the costs have more than doubled in
only eight years ($448.9 million in 1996, $649.5 million in 2000,
and $1.01 billion in 2004). In January 2007, Federal Election
Commission Chairman Michael E.
estimated that the 2008 race
would be a $1 billion election, and that to be taken seriously, a
candidate would have needed to raise at least $100 million by the
end of 2007.
Although he had said he would not be running for president,
published reports in 2007 indicated that billionaire and New York
City mayor Michael Bloomberg
been considering a presidential bid as an independent with up to $1
billion of his own fortune to finance it. Bloomberg ultimately
ended this speculation by unequivocally stating that he would not
run. Had Bloomberg decided to run, he would not have needed to
campaign in the primary elections or participate in the
conventions, reducing both the necessary length and cost of his
With the increase in money expenditures, the public financing
system funded by the presidential
election campaign fund checkoff
was not been used by many
candidates. John McCain, Tom Tancredo, John Edwards, Chris Dodd,
and Joe Biden qualified for and elected to take public funds
throughout the primary process. Major Democratic candidates
and Barack Obama
chose not to participate in the
public financing system.
contributions through the internet in his 2004 primary run. In 2008
candidates went even further to reach out to Internet users through
their own sites and such sites as YouTube
, and Facebook
Democratic Party candidate Barack
created a broad grassroots movement and a new method of
campaigning by courting and mobilizing activists, donations, and
voters through the Internet. It was part of a campaign that
mobilized grassroots workers in every state. Obama also set
fundraising records in more than one month by gaining support from
a record-breaking number of individual small donors.
On December 16, 2007, Ron Paul collected
, more money on a single day through Internet
donations than any presidential candidate in US history.
Anonymous and semi-anonymous smear
, traditionally done with fliers and push calling
, also spread to the Internet.
Organizations specializing in the production and distribution of
material, such as Brave New Films
, emerged; such organizations
have been said to be having a growing influence on American
According to required campaign filings as reported by the Federal Election Commission
(FEC), a total of 148 candidates for all parties raised a
collective total of $1,644,712,232 and spent $1,601,104,696 for the
primary and general campaigns combined through November 24, 2008.
The amounts raised and spent by the major candidates, according to
the same source, were as follows:
||Average spent per vote
|Barack Obama (D)
|John McCain (R)
|Ralph Nader (I)
|Bob Barr (L)
|Chuck Baldwin (C)
|Cynthia McKinney (G)
|Excludes spending by independent expenditure
Source: Federal Election Commission
An October 17-20, 2008 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed
among registered voters race made 2% more likely to vote for Barack
Obama and made 4% less likely to vote for Barack Obama. Those not
sure how it swayed them were 2%, and race was not a major factor in
the other 92% (margin of error was ± 2.9).
A July 18-21, 2008 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that
20% of African American registered voters and 8% of White
registered voters considered race the single most important factor
when voting (margin of error was ± 3.1). This percentage increased
in both groups from previous polls.
A June 6-9, 2008 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 17%
were enthusiastic about Obama being the first African American
President, 70% were comfortable or indifferent, and 13% had
reservations or were uncomfortable (margin of error was ±
A number of pre-election controversies in the election revolved
around challenges to voter
lists, involving techniques such as caging list
alleged to constitute
Allegations of voter list purges using
unlawful criteria caused controversy in at least six swing states: Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and
October 5, 2008 the Republican
Lt. Governor of
Montana, John Bohlinger
, accused the
Montana Republican Party of vote caging to purge 6,000 voters from
three counties which trend Democratic. Allegations arose in
Michigan that the Republican Party planned to challenge the
eligibility of voters based on lists of foreclosed homes. The
campaign of Democratic
nominee Barack Obama
filed a lawsuit
challenging this. The House Judiciary
Committee wrote to the Department
of Justice requesting an investigation.
Virginia election authorities were ordered by a federal
judge to preserve late-arriving absentee ballots sent by active-duty
military personnel following a suit by the McCain campaign.
It alleged that the state sent absentee ballots late to servicemen.
According to federal law, absentee ballots must be mailed to troops
in foreign countries at least 45 days prior to an election. The
charge against Virginia was that the ballots were not printed until
after the deadline and therefore were mailed late to soldiers
residents are U.S. citizens, and must obey U.S. laws passed in
Washington, yet they have neither a voting member of Congress, nor
votes in the Electoral College.
Since 1980, they have held a
straw poll for president at the same time as the U.S. national
elections. In 2007, Guam's legislature voted to move the straw poll
up to September, to draw attention to the choices of Guam's
population, as well as their continued disfranchisement, but the
bill was vetoed by the governor. Obama won the 2008 Guam straw poll
with 20,120 votes to McCain's 11,940.
Bob Barr filed a lawsuit in Texas to have
Obama and McCain removed from the ballot in that state.
campaign alleged that both the candidates had missed the August 26
deadline to file, and were present on the ballot contrary to Texas
election law. Neither candidates at the time of the deadline had
been confirmed as the candidate for their respective parties.
Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit without
Significant criticism was leveled at media outlets' coverage of the
presidential election season. At the February debate, Tim Russert
of NBC News
was criticized for what some perceived as disproportionately tough
questioning of Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton
. Among the questions,
Russert had asked Clinton, but not Obama, to provide the name of
the new Russian President
). This was later
parodied on Saturday Night
. In October 2007, liberal
accused Russert of harassing Clinton over the issue of supporting
drivers' licenses for illegal
16 ABC News hosted a debate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Moderators Charles Gibson
and George Stephanopoulos
by viewers, bloggers
and media critics for
the poor quality of their questions. Many viewers said they
considered some of the questions irrelevant when measured against
the importance of the faltering economy or the Iraq war
. Included in that category were continued
questions about Obama’s former pastor, Senator Hillary Clinton’s
assertion that she had to duck sniper fire in Bosnia more than a decade ago, and Senator Obama's not
wearing an American flag pin.
The moderators focused on
campaign gaffes and some believed they focused too much on Obama.
Stephanopoulos defended their performance, saying "Senator Obama
was the front-runner" and the questions were "not inappropriate or
irrelevant at all."
In an op-ed
published on 2008 April 27 in
The New York Times
the media covered much more of "the rancor of the campaign" and
"amount of money spent" than "the candidates' priorities, policies
and principles." Author Erica Jong
commented that "our press has become a sea of triviality, meanness
and irrelevant chatter."
Excellence in Journalism and Harvard University's
Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public
Policy conducted a study of 5,374 media narratives and
assertions about the presidential candidates from 2008 January 1
through 2008 March 9. The study found that Obama and Clinton
received 69 percent and 67 percent favorable coverage,
respectively, compared to only 43 percent favorable media coverage
of McCain although another study by the Center for Media and Public
Affairs at George Mason University found the media coverage of Obama to be 72%
negative from June 8 to July 21 compared to 57% negative for
An October 29 study found 29 percent of stories
about Obama to be negative, compared to 57 percent of stories about
McCain being negative.
An October 22, 2008 Pew Research
poll estimated 70 percent of registered voters believed
journalists wanted Barack Obama to win the election, as opposed to
9 percent for John McCain. Another Pew survey, conducted after the
election, found that 67% of voters thought that the press fairly
covered Obama, versus 30% who viewed the coverage as unfair.
Regarding McCain, 53% of voters viewed his press coverage as fair
versus 44% who characterized it as unfair. Among affiliated
Democrats, 83% believed the press fairly covered Obama; just 22% of
Republicans thought the press was fair to McCain.
[[Image:Poll Closing Times 2008.svg|thumb|Final poll closing times
on Election Day.
4, 2008 was Election
Day in 50 states and the District of Columbia; it was the last of 21 consecutive election days in
the voting booth in 1998.
The majority of states allowed
early voting, with all states allowing some form of absentee
voting. Voters cast votes for listed presidential candidates but
were actually selecting their state's slate of Electoral College
victory quickly became improbable as Obama amassed early wins in
Illinois (his home state), the Northeast and the critical
battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania by 9:20 PM. Obama won the entire Northeast by
comfortable margins and the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota by double digits. McCain managed to
hold on to traditionally Republican states like North Dakota, South
Dakota, Utah, Oklahoma, and Wyoming and swept all the traditionally Republican Deep South states. Obama won the hotly
contested states of Iowa and New Mexico, which Al Gore had won in
2000 and George W.
Bush in 2004. CNN and Fox News called Virginia for Obama shortly before 11pm, leaving him only 50
electoral votes shy of victory with only six West Coast states (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska,
and Hawaii) still voting.
All American networks called the
election in favor of Obama at 11:00 PM Eastern Standard Time as the
polls closed on the West Coast. Obama was immediately declared the winner in
California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii, McCain won Idaho, and the
Electoral College totals were updated to 297 for Obama and 146 for
McCain (270 are needed to win).
McCain gave a concession
speech half an hour later in his home state of Arizona.
President-elect Obama appeared just before
midnight Eastern time on November 5 in Grant
Park, Chicago, in front of a crowd of 250,000 people
to deliver his victory
Obama's speech, spontaneous street parties broke out in cities
across the United States including Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago,
Columbus, Detroit, Boston, Seattle, Washington,
Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Madison, and New York City and around the world in London;
Bonn; Berlin; Obama, Japan;
Toronto; Rio de
Janeiro; Sydney; and Nairobi.
Later on election night, after Obama was named the President-elect,
he picked up several more wins in swing states in which the polls
had shown a close race. These included Florida, Indiana, Virginia, and the western states of Colorado and Nevada.
of these states had been carried by Bush in 2004
. North Carolina and the bellwether state of Missouri remained undecided for several days.
Eventually Obama was declared the winner in North Carolina and
McCain in Missouri, with Obama pulling out a rare win in Nebraska's 2nd
. This put the total projected electoral
vote count at 365 for Obama and 173 for McCain. Obama's victories
in the populous swing states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North
Carolina, and Virginia contributed to his decisive win. The
presidential electors cast their ballots for President and Vice
President, and these votes were tallied by Congress on January 8,
Popular vote totals are from the official Federal Election Commission report
electoral vote totals were certified by Congress on January 8,
The voter turnout
for this election
was broadly predicted to be very high by American standards, and a
record number of votes were cast. The final tally of total votes
counted was 131.3 million, compared to 122.3 million in 2004 (which
also boasted the highest record since 1968
, after which
the voting age
was lowered to 18).
Expressed as a percentage of eligible voters, 131.2 million votes
could reflect a turnout as high as 63.0% of eligible voters, which
would be the highest since 1960
. This 63.0%
turnout rate is based on an estimated eligible voter population of
208,323,000. Another estimate puts the eligible voter population at
212,720,027, resulting in a turnout rate of 61.7%, which would be
the highest turnout rate since 1968.
American University's Center for the Study of the American
Electorate released a report on November 6, 2008, two days after
the election, which concluded that the anticipated increase in
turnout had failed to materialize. That report was the basis for a
number of news articles indicating that voter turnout failed to
meet expectations. When the remaining votes were counted after the
release of the report, the total number of votes cast in the
presidential election was raised to 131.2 million, which surpassed
the American University report's preliminary estimate of 126.5 to
128.5 million voters by a factor of between 2% and 4%.
African American turnout increased from 11.1% of the electorate in
2004 to 13.0% in 2008. According to exit polls, over 95% of African
Americans voted for Barack Obama. This played a critical role in
southern states such as North Carolina. 74% of North Carolina's
registered African American voters turned out, as opposed to 69% of
North Carolinians in general, with Obama carrying an unprecedented
100% (with rounding) of African American females and African
Americans age 18 to 29, according to exit polling. This was the
case in Virginia as well where much higher turnout among African
Americans propelled Obama to victory in the former Republican
stronghold. Even in southern states where Obama was unsuccessful,
such as Georgia and Mississippi, due to large African American
turnout he was much more competitive than John Kerry in 2004.
This table records the official final state election board tallies
for those presidential candidates who were listed on ballots in
enough states to have a theoretical chance for a majority in the
Electoral College. The first two columns contain the state name and
its number of electors. Bold
vote count winner in each state as well as winners in each
electoral district of Maine and Nebraska, the only two states that
apportion electoral votes by district. State popular vote results
are from the official Federal Election Commission report
states, Georgia, Illinois, New York, and Ohio, have since amended
the popular vote results. The updated Georgia results
, Illinois results
, New York results
, and Ohio results
are included here.
District of Columbia
|ME 1st Dist.
|ME 2nd Dist.
|NE 1st Dist.
|NE 2nd Dist.
|NE 3rd Dist.
Image:2008 General Election Results by County.PNG|Popular vote by
county. Red represents counties that went for McCain, Blue
represents counties that went for Obama. Connecticut, Hawaii,
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont had all
counties go to Obama. Oklahoma had all counties go to
McCain.Image:ElectionMapPurpleCounty.jpg|Presidential popular votes
by county as a scale from red/Republican to
of popular vote with each county
rescaled in proportion to its population. Deeper blue represents a
Democratic majority, brighter red represents a Republican
majority.Image:US Election04-08shift.png|Voting shifts per county
from the 2004 to the 2008 election. Darker blue indicates the
county voted more Democratic. Darker red indicates the county voted
States/districts in the 2008 United
States Presidential election where the margin of victory was less
Blue states/districts went for Obama, red for McCain.
Yellow states were won by either candidate by 5% or
Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia and Iowa were won by
Bush in 2004 but were won by Obama by a margin of more than 5% in
Red font color denotes states won by Republican John McCain; blue
denotes those won by Democrat Barack Obama.
States/districts where the margin of victory was under 5% (88
- North Carolina
- Nebraska's 2nd
congressional district 1.19%
|Obama / Biden
|McCain / Palin
|Nader / Gonzalez
|Barr / Root
|Baldwin / Castle
|McKinney / Clemente
|Others — total
No other candidate had ballot access in enough states to win 270
electoral votes, although Brian
(Socialist) had a theoretical chance, through write-in
status, of winning 308 electors. All six candidates appeared on the
ballot for a majority of the voters, while the 17 other listed
candidates were available to no more than 30% of the voters.
The following nine candidates (and/or parties) had ballot listing
and/or write-in status in more than one state:
- Alan Keyes (America's Independent Party)
received 47,768 votes; listed in three states: Colorado and
Florida, plus California (listed as American Independent), and also
had write-in status in Kentucky, Ohio, Texas, and Utah.
- Ron Paul received 41,905 votes; listed
in Louisiana (Louisiana Taxpayers) and in Montana (Constitution),
with write-in status in California.
- Róger Calero (Socialist Workers
Party) received 7,561 votes; listed in ten states. He was
listed by name in Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and
Vermont. James Harris was listed as his stand-in in Colorado,
Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, and Washington, and also had write-in
status in California.
- Brian Moore (Socialist
Party, see Brian Moore presidential
campaign, 2008) received 6,566 votes; listed in eight states:
Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Jersey, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well
as Tennessee (independent) and Vermont (Liberty Union). He also
filed for write-in status in 17 other states: Alaska, Connecticut,
Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana,
New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia,
Washington, and Wyoming.
- Gloria La Riva (Party for Socialism and
Liberation) received 6,808 votes nationally; listed in 12
states: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New Jersey,
New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and
- Charles Jay (Boston Tea Party)
received 2,420 votes; listed in Colorado and Florida, and in
Tennessee (as independent), with write-in status in Arizona,
Montana, and Utah.
- Tom Stevens
(Objectivist) received 755 votes;
listed in Colorado and Florida.
- Gene Amondson (Prohibition) received 653 votes; listed in
Colorado, Florida, and Louisiana.
- Jonathan Allen (HeartQuake) received
483 votes; listed only in Colorado, with write-in status in
Arizona, Georgia, Montana, Texas, and other states.
The following candidates (parties) were listed on ballot in only
In Nevada, 6,251 votes were cast for "None Of These Candidates" .
In the three states that officially keep track of "blank" votes for
President, 103,193 votes were recorded as "blank". More than
100,000 write-in votes were cast and recorded for a scattering of
other candidates, including 62 votes for "Santa Claus
" (in ten states) and 11 votes for
"(in five states).
According to the Federal Election Commission, an unusually high
number of "miscellaneous" write-ins were cast for president in
2008, including 112,554 tallied in the 17 states that record votes
for non-listed candidates. There were more presidential candidates
on the ballot than at any other time in U. S. history, except for
, which also had 23 candidates listed in at least one
Hawaii, Obama is the first president to be born outside
the continental United
States. Obama, having a white mother and Kenyan father of
the Luo ethnic group,
became the first African American
and the first bi-racial president.
Also, the Obama-Biden ticket was the first winning ticket in
American history on which neither candidate was a WASP
; Biden is Roman Catholic
and is the first Roman
Catholic to be elected Vice President. Obama and Biden were the
first President and Vice President elected from the Senate since
Prior to the election, commentators discussed whether Senator Obama
would be able to redraw the electoral map by winning states that
had been voting for Republican candidates in recent decades. In
many ways, he was successful. He won every region of the country by
double digits except the South, which John McCain won by nine
percent. Obama won Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North
Carolina, Florida, and Virginia in the South (region
as defined by the US Census
McCain won most of the Deep South, where white
voters have in the last few decades supported Republican candidates
by large margins. Obama also defied political bellwethers,
becoming the first person to win the presidency while losing
Missouri since 1956 and while
losing Kentucky and Tennessee since 1960.
the first Democrat to win the presidency without winning West Virginia since 1916 and the first
Democrat to win without Arkansas since that state joined the Union in 1836.
victories in Indiana and Virginia were also noteworthy.
Both states voted for
the Democratic nominee for the first time in the 11 elections since
Obama did not win other normally Republican states such as Georgia and Montana (which were won by Bill
Clinton in 1992), he
nonetheless was competitive in both.
He lost Montana by just
under 3% and Georgia by slightly more than 5%. Also notably, Barack
Obama won all of the 2004 swing states (states that either Kerry or
Bush won by less than 5%) by a margin of 9 percent or more except
for Ohio, which the Democrat carried by 4.5 percent.
the first presidential candidate to split the electoral votes from
Nebraska. Together with Maine, which has
not yet split its electoral votes, Nebraska is one of two states
that split their electoral votes, two going to the statewide
popular vote winner and the rest going to the winner of each
respective congressional district (Nebraska has three, and Maine
has two). Obama won the electoral vote from Nebraska's 2nd
congressional district which contains the city of Omaha.
Nebraska's other four electoral votes went to John McCain.
It was observed that this election exhibited the continuation of
some of the polarization trends evident in the 2000
elections. McCain won whites by 12 points, while Obama won blacks
by 91 points, Hispanics by 36 points, and Asians by 27 points.
Voters aged 18–29 voted for Obama by 66–32 percent while elderly
voters backed McCain 53–45 percent.
The American presidential election was followed closely
internationally. When it was clear that Obama was victorious, many
world leaders sent congratulations and well-wishes to the