JOHN KRAHNERT III: Has There Ever Been Such an Election?
"I'm ready for this election to be over."
That's the most popular line I heard over the several weeks leading up to Tuesday. People were getting sick of enduring the barrage of political ads every time they turned on the TV. They were getting sick of the robocalls, the opinion polls, and the e-mails from the campaigns telling them to vote early.
Well, the election is over. And I hate it.
Maybe I'm just a dork and have become completely immune to everything because I've been glued to political coverage since the 2006 midterms. But this election was, by far, the most intriguing one in my 23 years and perhaps ever in American history.
Yeah, it was a long, exhausting campaign that went on for almost two years -- and the country might be better served if we cut down on the length of the process. But it featured one of the most interesting slates of candidates the country has ever seen.
Think about it -- a former first lady who's now one of the most influential senators in Washington, a Baptist minister and former governor who happens to play the bass guitar, a Texas congressman who wanted to do away with the IRS and FBI, a Boston business magnate who spent millions of his own dollars to keep his candidacy alive, the DA from "Law and Order" who dropped in late, a local boy whose political career imploded in front of our eyes, a "maverick" who resurrected his 2000 campaign and beat the odds to win his party's nomination, and the first serious African-American candidate, who subsequently reshaped the political landscape in the process. Wow!
Adding to the intrigue was our home state of North Carolina, which was suddenly put in play in the presidential contest for the first time in 30 years. It also featured two contentious and ultra-competitive statewide contests for U.S. Senate and governor. What more could you ask?
At 11 p.m. Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama became President-Elect Obama, scoring a decisive victory over Sen. John McCain by redefining the electoral map and winning states in which no Democrat has competed for decades. He ushered in a new era in American history as he stood in front of 100,000 screaming supporters in Chicago's Grant Park.
In all honesty, it's not surprising that Obama won. McCain had to battle not only a charismatic, rock-star opponent, but also a struggling economy and his party's extremely unpopular president. The economy is enough on its own to destroy a presidential campaign. Just ask Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush. To me, Obama's victory always seemed inevitable.
But give McCain credit. He may not have been the right candidate to beat Obama -- it would be hard to find someone in the GOP who could -- but he kept this election interesting all the way to the end. For a few weeks in the summer, it looked as if he might even pull off the upset.
Even though it helped him surge ahead in the polls for a while, McCain lost the election with the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. It may not be fair to put the loss entirely on her, but Palin suddenly captured all the headlines and consumed the entire campaign. The VP candidate suddenly became a bigger celebrity than the presidential candidate, and that's never a good thing.
More significant was the philosophical shift that Palin brought to the ticket. She represents the conservative wing of the Republican Party, and with her selection, McCain sacrificed his moderate, independent persona to appeal to the base. Sure, it may have helped fire up an important group that wasn't very excited about McCain in the first place, but it alienated the moderates and independents who were vital to his victory.
I still believe the selection of Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman would have given McCain a better chance.
Obama and his staff played their cards right. I said in an earlier column that Obama needed to be more aggressive and go after McCain, and he did. He made the right VP selection in the aggressive, if gaffe-prone, Joe Biden. He also succeeded in labeling McCain as a continuation of the Bush administration and someone who was out of touch with the rest of the country.
Most important, he didn't do anything stupid to mess up his chances. When you're the front-runner, it's critical to run a smart campaign, and he did that.
Americans wanted a change, and now they've got it. Obama offers something new, something fresh. Let's see how he does. He has a great opportunity to unite the country for the first time in years. And if anyone can do it, he can.
The GOP, on the other hand, has to regroup and find some new leadership. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Boehner aren't the guys to lead it back. It's time to purge the Bush neocons and evangelicals and return to the Reagan philosophy that gave it the "national party" status in the 1980s. Find some new blood. Keep an eye on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who may be the future of the party, for the GOP nomination next time around.
In the meantime, like the election addict I am, I'm counting down to 2012.
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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