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From 2008 to 2010 - was Obama-mania ever real?

By Scott Tibbs, December 3, 2010

Two years ago, people were talking about a generational shift in US politics with the election of Barack Obama and Democratic supermajorities in both houses of Congress. I never bought the idea that this represented some sort of huge change in the electorate, and the 2010 election proved me right. Allow me to share some of my reasons for why Obama's big win in 2008 was a result of wide but shallow support.

First, the economic crash hurt John McCain specifically, and Republicans in general. When people's stocks are losing value and companies were shedding jobs, it is never good for the party in power. Despite the fact that the Democrats had controlled Congress for almost two years by that point, Bush was going to get the blame.

Second, McCain was soft on Obama. There were many areas where Obama was weak and where McCain could have taken votes away - especially Obama's radical position on abortion. McCain did not want to play hardball and allowed Obama to escape criticism on issues that would never have been taken off the table by other more aggressive Republicans.

One specific failure of the McCain campaign was losing Indiana. That was pure incompetence, in a solid red state where Republicans won every Presidential contest for ten consecutive elections. Obama poured money into the state while McCain took Indiana for granted. Even as Obama was winning the state, Mitch Daniels won re-election with almost sixty percent of the vote! There is no reason McCain should have lost Indiana.

Third, McCain was strongly disliked by GOP base. I've written a lot about this in the past, so I won't go into great detail again. Suffice it to say that McCain was the worst possible candidate for the GOP other than Rudy Giuliani. That hurt him more than anything.

Fourth, people were sick of George W. Bush. The economy was bad, Bush had abandoned and discouraged the Republican base by repeatedly selling out conservative principles, and eight years of constant attacks by Democrats had taken a toll. Bush's unpopularity was a drag on McCain's already weak chances of victory.

Finally, the big difference from 2004 was that Democrats were fired up and enthusiastic for Obama, while four years earlier they were mostly against President Bush. Any candidate needs to have people enthusiastically for him, because you generally cannot win elections simply by being against "the other guy." Republicans banked on selling McCain to an unenthusiastic base by saying "Obama is so much worse." That simply was not enough.

Even with everything breaking against McCain - an unpopular incumbent Republican, a GOP base that does not like or trust him, a economic meltdown, and an enthusiastic Democratic base - Obama only won 53 percent to 46 percent. Obama should have gotten 57 to 60 percent with the 2008 political landscape. I thought at the time (and told my friends) that Obama's support may be a mile wide, but it was an inch deep. Once he starts implementing his agenda, that coalition will break apart.

And break apart it did. Republicans won over 60 seats in the House and picked up several in the Senate. Republicans took Democrats to the woodshed in state legislative races, which will cement Republican power as Congressional districts are redrawn.

Obama is still a formidable opponent, but has he ever faced a serious challenge? McCain was an incredibly weak candidate who was an albatross on other Republicans down the ticket. Obama had an easy race in 2004 against Alan Keyes. This is the first time Obama has been challenged at this level, and look what happened.

Let's not forget that Obama is the first Democrat to win a majority the popular vote since Jimmy Carter did so in 1976. (Even Bill Clinton won with less than 50% in both 1992 and 1996.) The general public is not historically inclined to vote for Democrats. All of this bodes very well for a Republican looking to unseat Obama in 2012 - provided we do not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by nominating another John McCain or Bob Dole.