November 3, 2008: Last Day on the Campaign Trail for McCain, Obama, Palin & Biden

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN 2008 WATCH:

Senator John McCain during a “Road to Victory” rally in Las Vegas on Monday evening. (Photo: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

Election TV Coverage:

  • A Night To Remember: Historians Covering Election Night:
    ABC: Richard Norton Smith, George Mason University
    CBS: Douglas Brinkley, Rice University
    PBS: WH historian Michael Beschloss, George Mason Univ.’s Richard Norton Smith and Brandeis Univ.’s Peniel Joseph
    CTV NewsNet: Gil Troy, McGill University, Bipartisan Policy Center-
    Hotline Blog
  • BILL MANN ON TV Ready for the election Networks go visual with magic walls, election maps on ice, as BBC, BET, Comedy Central enter fray – Press Democrat, 11-3-08

The week that was….

  • November 3, 2008: Obama talks on election eve like a man who expects he’s going to win presidency … McCain speeds across 7 states in campaign finale … Palin offers optimism in Ohio Democratic suburb; draws 17,000 in Missouri … Biden tells suburban Kansas City crowd that his ticket offers most relief for middle class … Obama’s grandmother dies … Early voting: Democrats cast more ballots than GOP – AP, 11-3-08….
    McCain, Obama campaign hard as long election season draws to a close … Obama campaigns, talks on election eve like a man who expects he’s going to win presidency … Palin sounds optimistic note in Democratic stronghold in Ohio; criticizes Obama’s tax plan … Biden tells suburban Kansas City crowd that he and Obama offer most relief for middle class – AP, 11-3-08
  • November 2, 2008: McCain, Obama unleash telephone calls, mailing, door-knockings in massive GOTV effort … Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs attend Obama get-out-vote rally in South Florida … Feds investigate if laws were broken in disclosure of Obama aunt’s immigration status … – AP, 11-3-08
  • November 1, 2008: Confident Obama asks supporters to ‘change the world,’ while McCain digs for last-minute upset … Palin, in prank call from fake French president, says she might make good president in 8 years … McCain pokes fun at his presidential campaign on ‘Saturday Night Live’ – AP, 11-2-08

Obama

Senator Barack Obama on Monday evening told an audience in Charlotte, N.C., about the death of his grandmother. (Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The Stats

  • November 3, 2008: Obama leads McCain in 6 of 8 key states –
    Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby: Obama holds a 7-point edge over McCain among likely U.S. voters in a separate Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby national tracking poll, up 1 percentage point from Sunday. – AP, 11-3-08
  • November 3, 2008: Real Clear Politics’ tracking of major polls:
  1. Florida: Obama +1.8
  2. North Carolina: McCain +0.6
  3. Virginia: Obama +4.3
  4. Ohio: Obama + 3.2
  5. Missouri: McCain +0.5
  6. Colorado: Obama +5.5
  7. Nevada: Obama +6.2
  8. Pennsylvania Obama +7.6
  • November 2, 2008: Democrat Barack Obama has a 13-percentage-point lead over Republican John McCain — 53 percent to 40 percent — among registered voters, according to the latest Gallup Poll daily tracking update. Obama’s lead on Sunday was 11 points. – AP, 11-3-08
  • November 2, 2008: Obama keeps his lead in Ohio Final poll: Obama 52%, McCain 46% – Columbia Dispatch, 11-2-08
  • November 1, 2008: Obama lead on McCain slips to 9 points:
    Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll: Obama leads McCain by 51 percent to 42 percent in the rolling three-day tracking poll.
    Obama led by 10 points Friday and 12 points on Thursday. Reuters, 11-3-08

In the News…

  • The ’08 Race: A Sea Change for Politics as We Know It – NYT, 11-4-08
  • Past trouble spots could flare again, election analyst says CNN Voter Hotline at 1-877-462-6608 – CNN, 11-3-08
  • The inner workings of the Electoral College – KHQA 7, 11-3-08
  • After election, new president has to wait 77 days – AP, 11-3-08
  • Election Night (Popcorn Included) – NYT, 11-4-08
  • Election Night Essentials – NYT, The Caucus, 11-3-08
  • Candidates Visit Key States in Final Sprint: American voters head to the polls on Tuesday to elect their next president after the longest and most expensive campaign in U.S. history. As VOA’s Mike O’Sullivan reports, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made last-minute appeals in three key states on Monday, while Republican John McCain took his message across the country. – VOA, 11-3-08
  • Congressional Republicans Work to Thwart Democratic Gains – WaPo, 11-3-08
  • Obama and McCain Have Breakout Game – N”YT, 11-3-08
  • The Virginia Vibe – NYT, The Caucus, 11-3-08
  • McCain Makes Seven-State Swing In Bid for a Come-From-Behind Win – WaP0, 11-3-08
  • Obama, McCain strike familiar chords in final appeal to voters – Miami Herald, 11-3-08
  • Obama, McCain both promise change on election eve – AP, 11-3-08
  • Could voting meltdown history repeat itself? – AP, 11-3-08
  • Election Guide: Keep early eye on Ga., Va., Ind. – AP, 11-3-08
  • All signs point to Obama win on eve of election – CTV, 11-3-08
  • Report clears Palin in Troopergate probe – AP, 11-3-08
  • Obama’s grandmother dies just before Election Day – AP, 11-3-08
  • Campaigns uncork get-out-the-vote operations – AP, 11-3-08
  • McCain Camp Finds Some Hope in Philadelphia – NYT, 11-3-08

Campaign Bloopers

Historians’ Comments

  • Gil Troy “The Ghosts of the 60s and 80s Haunted and Inspired this Campaign”: When this campaign began so many months and $4.3 billion ago, many pollsters and pundits predicted that Election Day would be the final round of the battle of the New York titans, pitting Hillary Rodham Clinton against Rudy Giuliani. Back then, when we thought about waking up at 3 AM, we usually associated it with an unwelcome run to the john, not the test – as described in Hillary Clinton’s campaign commercial – of who was ready to lead the nation. If we imagined a ceiling with 17 million cracks in it, we assumed it would shatter, especially if the ceiling was glass; when we worried about meltdowns, it was because our kids were overprogrammed or undersupervised, not because our financial markets were overstretched and under-scrutinized; and when we talked about Joe the plumber we grumbled about the guy who charged too much and came too slowly not some idealized version of the people’s wisdom incarnate. In those days when we thought about the largest state in the union, we wondered what its connection was with baked Alaska, we did not think about the half-baked ideas of the governor from Alaska and the conventional wisdom in Washington described Joe Biden as a blow-dried, blowhard politician, (who barely won 11,000 votes when he ran in the 2008 primaries) rather than the ultimate democratic ideal, a working class kid from Scranton conjured into Beltway foreign policy guru. The most famous Barak in the world was Ehud, the Israeli Defense minister, and –dare I say it — the most famous Hussein was either Saddam or the late King of Jordan. Moreover, most Americans agreed that the most decent, nonpartisan, moderate member of the United States senate was… John McCain. HNN, 11-3-08
  • Michael Beschloss “Level of White Support for Obama a Surprise “: The presidential historian Michael Beschloss credits Mr. Obama with reprising the approach adopted by John F. Kennedy in his 1960 breakthrough as the first Roman Catholic to win the presidency. “He was running to be president of all the people, not president of a faction,” Mr. Beschloss said. – NYT, 11-3-08
  • Julian Zelizer “GOP fears slap-down by Dems with upper hand”: But passing sweeping legislation is far from guaranteed. Democratic leaders are likely to face divisions within the party. Liberal Democrats may push for the kind of changes seen under President Johnson, saying, “This is our moment,” said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University professor of history and public affairs. But moderates will push back. Everyone will be jockeying to direct what goes forward, he said. “This would create the condition to really give Democrats an opportunity they have not had in decades,” Zelizer said. “On the other had, the pressures will increase on the party. Democrats for the past two years have been able to support some measures knowing they would be killed by GOP filibuster. If that goes away, Zelizer said, some Democratic support might peel away. “The burden’s all on them,” Zelizer added. “There will be immense risk and great tension.” – Denver Post, 10-29-08
  • Debbie Walsh “History just a few days away”: “Will we ever go back to a year when all four candidates are white males?” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to that.” – Newsday, 11-2-08
  • Clement Alexander Price “History just a few days away”: “Barack Obama’s election, should it come to that, really does suggest a significant cultural transformation in the way that we Americans, black and white and brown, perceive color, perceive race, perceive the meaning of African-Americans,” said Clement Alexander Price, a history professor at Rutgers University, Newark. “It’s an indication that the republic continues to evolve in rather marvelous ways.” – Newsday, 11-2-08
  • Manning Marable: “History just a few days away”: “If you could pigeonhole him as the ‘black candidate’, then he would never break out and reach white audiences,” said Manning Marable, a professor of history and African-American studies at Columbia University. “So for him to break out of that, he had to put forward solutions that met the needs of a lot of racial and class groups, and he had to focus with a laserlike determination on speaking to the middle class.” – Newsday, 11-2-08
  • Julian Zelizer “Commentary:New president’s 100 days of pressure”: The new president, whether Barack Obama or John McCain, can learn a lesson from all of these presidents about how to break out of the gridlock that has bogged down Washington. They will have to use their hundred days to build confidence in the government and its ability to stabilize the economic system, taking advantage of the narrow window they will have to get legislation through.
    The new president will have to define himself in relation to his predecessor, but in this case by demonstrating clearly to the public what he will do differently, rather than the same, as President Bush. And, finally, the new president will need to find legislation that attracts some support from the opposition to diminish the power of polarization on Capitol Hill and establish the groundwork for future compromise.
    The one thing that Obama or McCain must realize is that those hundred days will disappear quickly. Once they are gone, as Bill Clinton learned after delaying his push for health care reform, the political capital is hard to get back. CNN, 10-28-08
  • Julian Zelizer “If Elected … How would a President Obama govern?”: Bush and Obama stand for very different things, says Zelizer, but Obama “runs his campaign with the same sort of methodical efficiency and closed nature of the Bush White House.” “He’s not going to have a freewheeling White House where people are free to go out on their own and do what they want and be allowed to talk to the press,” Zelizer said. – AP, 10-18-08
  • Hubert Evans “Nostradamus Writings Predict McCain Victory”: “Conventional wisdom picks Obama. Nostradamus, four and a half centuries ago, picked John McCain,” said Dr. , professor of Renaissance Studies at Yale University and author of the best-selling Nostradamus: Prophesize This! “Quatrain 78, Century X in particular seems to indicate that Obama had better not be measuring the White House windows for curtains quite yet, at least by my interpretation,” said Dr. Evans. The quatrain to which Dr. Evans refers – Quatrain 78 – is located in the grouping of stanzas known as Century X. Originally published in 1555 in Nostradamus’ still-popular Les Prophecies, Quatrain 78 reads in full:
    At the war’s end
    The Feeble Kept-One will strike down the Night
    And his Imbecile Queen will rise from the snow
    Bedecked in finery and the pelt of a wolf. – CAP News, 11-3-08
  • Arthur I. Cyr “History says not to count out McCain”: Another factor that may affect the outcome of this election is the so-called “Bradley Effect.” In 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, was defeated for governor of California even though polls showed him winning. This and other examples argue some voters are more included in opinion polls than in the voting booth to support a minority candidate. The 2008 presidential campaign has been remarkably free of appeals to racism, despite personal attacks by both sides. The fact that a major party ticket is headed by an African-American is enormously important — and positive. A Democratic victory, however, won’t be guaranteed until demonstrated by the electorate. – Scripps News, 10-31-08
  • Devin Fergus “2008 Presidential Election Signals Transition”: First 100 days crucial: Regardless of who is elected president, similarities will be drawn between the first 100 days of the new administration and that of FDR, says 20th-century historian Devin Fergus. How the new president works with Congress in handling the economic and financial crisis will set the tone for the rest of the term. If Obama is elected as a post-racial candidate, he must balance the competing concerns of the investor class with those of working and middle-class voters. Obama’s advisers should look to what lessons could be learned from the successes and failures of the New Deal. – Market Watch, 10-31-08

Gov. Sarah Palin and Todd Palin while Hank Williams Jr. sang the National Anthem in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

On The Campaign Trail...

    THE DEMOCRATS: Barack Obama holds rallies in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
    Joe Biden campaigns in Missouri, Ohio and Philadelphia.

    THE REPUBLICANS: John McCain campaigns in Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona.
    Sarah Palin campaigns in Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada.

  • November 3, 2008: John McCain in Florida: With this kind of enthusiasm and this kind of intensity, we will win Florida and we will win this race tomorrow.
  • November 3, 2008: Barack Obama in Florida [It has been] 21 months of a campaign that’s taken us from the rocky coast of Maine to the sunshine of California. We are one day away from changing the United States of America.
  • November 3, 2008: John McCain: Sen. Obama is in the far left lane” of politics. He’s more liberal than a guy who calls himself a Socialist and that’s not easy….
    One day left, just one day left before we take America in a new direction, my friends. We need your help, we need your help and we will win…
    With this kind of enthusiasm, this kind of intensity we will win Florida and we will win the election….
    Senator Obama’s massive new tax increase would kill jobs and make a bad economy worse — I’m not going to let that happen.
  • November 3, 2008: Sarah Palin: Iowa, do we have your commitment and can we count on you tomorrow….
    Now is not the time to experiment with socialism. Our opponent’s plan is just for bigger government.
  • November 3, 2008: Barack Obama about his grandmother’s passing: She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength and humility. She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances…
    One of those quiet heroes that we have all across America who, they’re not famous, their names aren’t in the newspapers, but each and every day they work hard, they look after their families, they sacrifice for their children and their grandchildren. They aren’t seeking the limelight. All they try to do is just do the right thing.
    In this crowd there are a lot of quiet heroes like that. The satisfaction that they get is seeing their children, or maybe their grandchildren, or maybe their great-children, live a better life than they did. That’s what America is about . . . and in just one day we have the opportunity to honour all those quiet heroes.
  • November 3, 2008: Barack Obama, when asked by ABC News Radio’s Ann Compton what keeps him up at night : Not actually winning or losing. It’s governing.
  • November 3, 2008: John McCain on the last day of the campaign: I’m an American, and I choose to fight!… Don’t give up hope. Be strong. Have courage and fight. Fight for a new direction for our country. Fight for what’s right for America.
  • November 3, 2008: Russ Parr Interview with Barack Obama: “What is the one thing at this point that has you a little bit concerned?” syndicated radio host Russ Parr asked. “You know, I feel pretty peaceful, Russ, I gotta say,” Obama replied. “Because my attitude is, if we’ve done everything we can do, then it’s up to the people to decide. And the question is going to be who wants it more. And I hope that our supporters want it bad, because I think the country needs it.”
  • November 3, 2008: Joe Biden to a crowd of about 1,500 at the Longview Community College Recreation Center south of Kansas City, MO : For too many families who are working hard, playing by the rules … people can see it slipping from their grasp. We are on the cusp of a new brand of leadership.
  • November 3, 2008: Joe Biden: We need to get out and elect Barack Obama president of the United States tomorrow.
  • November 2008: McCain told a rabid Dayton crowd before leading them in a rousing chant of “Nostradamus don’t like no Obamas!”: My friends, Nostradamus believed in us because he knew, knew that Sen. Obama would raise his taxes!
  • November 2, 2008: John McCain in a rally at Strath Haven High School, PA Now let me give you a little straight talk about the state of the race today. There’s just two days left. We’re a couple of points behind in Pennsylvania. The pundits have written us off, just like they’ve done before….
    My friends, the Mac is back!
    The other night, Senator Obama said that if he lost, he would return to the Senate and try again in four years for the second act. That sounds like a great idea to me! Let’s help him make it happen….
    I think that Tom Ridge — and President Bush — deserve some credit for the fact there’s not been another attack on the United States of America since 9/11,’
  • November 2, 2008: Obama say he might be headed for a win Tuesday The past couple of days I’ve just been feeling good….You start thinking maybe we might be able to win an election on November 4.
  • November 2, 2008: Sarah Palin at a Ohio Rally: A little advice to Tina Fey. I want to make sure she’s holding on to that Sarah outfit. Because she’s gonna need it in the next four years.
  • November 2, 2008: : If you have not voted yet, it would be a shame for you to come to a rally and not vote. Go vote now. Do not delay!…. It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick, but you and I know it’s time to come together and change this country. We can’t let this slip away….
    Washington will have to tighten its belt and put off spending on things we don’t need. As President, I will go through the federal budget, line-by-line, ending programs that we don’t need and making the ones we do need work better and cost less.

Biden

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Copley, Ohio. (Photo: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)
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November 3, 2008: In the Last Week the Tide Turns….

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN 2008 WATCH:

The week that was….

  • November 1, 2008: Confident Obama asks supporters to ‘change the world,’ while McCain digs for last-minute upset … Palin, in prank call from fake French president, says she might make good president in 8 years … McCain pokes fun at his presidential campaign on ‘Saturday Night Live’ – AP
  • October 31, 2008: Obama goes for landslide, even campaigning in rival’s state; McCain says foe is too far left … Not so fast: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin might not be permitted to cash in on fame … Thousands of Colo. residents purged from voter registration rolls now allowed to cast ballots – AP
  • October 30, 2008: McCain says Obama’s economic policies are from the far left of US politics … Former top US diplomat says Palin not up to the task of presidency but could become ‘adequate’ … Don’t rush me: AP poll finds 1 in 7 likely voters still persuadable as Election Day draws near … McCain to appear on ‘Saturday Night Live’ just before election … Biden absent from re-election campaign, depending on surrogates – AP
    Economy reeling, Obama and McCain trade blame, fight for final votes in campaign homestretch … Campaign says Obama TV ads, one positive and one negative, offer their ‘closing argument’ … Biden says Obama will create jobs in hotly contested Missouri … Palin speaks to enthusiastic crowd in Cape Girardeau … Early voting means waiting, waiting and more waiting … NC elections board extends early voting hours on Saturday in wake of record turnout. – AP
  • October 29, 2008: Obama gets his normal cheering crowd at cold, outdoor rally … With polls showing Pa. slipping away, McCain says ‘it’s wonderful to fool the pundits’ … Biden urges early voting in Florida, says state could determine election … McCain calls for Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens to resign after felony convictions … Lines long for early voting in Ga.; polling place hours extended in Fla. due to record turnout. – AP….
    AP EXCLUSIVE: Obama ahead or tied in 8 battleground states, GOP worries about landslide … McCain proposes giving more revenue to coastal states that boost offshore oil production … Obama takes his case to the country with infomercial, broader TV blitz … Palin calls for break from Bush energy policies … Palin faces new ethics complaint … In a push for early voting in Fla., Biden urges supporters to promote Obama … Democrats dominate early voting, putting Republicans behind as Election Day approaches AP
  • October 28, 2008: Obama takes his case to the country with infomercial, broader TV blitz … In battleground of Florida, McCain links economy, security … Palin is still in charge with personal assistance from her Anchorage office – AP
  • October 27, 2008: Obama envisions no ‘red’ or ‘blue’ America, but getting elected is different … McCain takes running mate Palin on swing through conservative, rural areas of Pennsylvania … Michelle Obama says she wears J. Crew, expresses empathy over Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe – AP
    McCain says Bush tactic on economy is wrong; promises lid on government spending … Palin promises to work with Israeli ambassador, warns of Democratic monopoly in Washington … Obama offers closing argument in Ohio; vows to restore prosperity and higher national purpose … Biden compares Obama attacks to those lobbed against past presidents –
  • October 26, 2008: McCain says ‘I’m going to win it’ as Obama says the Republican is running out of time’ … McCain says Palin returned some of the $150,000 in clothing the Republican Party bought her … The Anchorage Daily News, Alaska’s largest newspaper, endorses Obama for president … – AP

The Stats

  • November 2, 2008: Obama keeps his lead in Ohio Final poll: Obama 52%, McCain 46% – Columbia Dispatch, 11-2-08
  • October 31, 2008: Democrat Barack Obama has an 8-percentage-point lead over Republican John McCain — 50 percent to 42 percent — among registered voters, according to the latest Gallup Poll daily tracking update. Obama’s lead on Wednesday was 9 points. – AP
  • October 27, 2008: Democrat Barack Obama has a 10-percentage-point lead over Republican John McCain — 52 percent to 42 percent — among registered voters, according to the latest Gallup Poll daily tracking update. – AP

In the News…

Campaign Bloopers

Historians’ Comments

  • Will This Election Be Stolen? As both parties battle over just how fraud could taint this election, two analysts with very different viewpoints look at voting abuses from the beginning of the republic to the present day. – WSJ, 11-1-08
  • Essay How to Read Like a President – NYT, 10-31-08
  • Arthur I. Cyr “History says not to count out McCain”: Another factor that may affect the outcome of this election is the so-called “Bradley Effect.” In 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, was defeated for governor of California even though polls showed him winning. This and other examples argue some voters are more included in opinion polls than in the voting booth to support a minority candidate. The 2008 presidential campaign has been remarkably free of appeals to racism, despite personal attacks by both sides. The fact that a major party ticket is headed by an African-American is enormously important — and positive. A Democratic victory, however, won’t be guaranteed until demonstrated by the electorate. – Scripps News, 10-31-08
  • Julian Zelizer “Obama Holds 6-Point Average Lead Over McCain in Polls”: “Obama’s is a campaign about gaining a lead and then holding it,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey. “McCain’s last two weeks have not changed this. Most important, the context of the election has remained the same — an economy in crisis — so it is hard to get those numbers to move.” — Bloomberg, 11-1-08
  • Devin Fergus “2008 Presidential Election Signals Transition”: First 100 days crucial: Regardless of who is elected president, similarities will be drawn between the first 100 days of the new administration and that of FDR, says 20th-century historian Devin Fergus. How the new president works with Congress in handling the economic and financial crisis will set the tone for the rest of the term. If Obama is elected as a post-racial candidate, he must balance the competing concerns of the investor class with those of working and middle-class voters. Obama’s advisers should look to what lessons could be learned from the successes and failures of the New Deal. – Market Watch, 10-31-08
  • Carl Anthony “Candidate wives a study in contrasts on the trail”: Indeed, Cindy McCain referred to that experience at a women’s event a year ago, says historian Carl Anthony, and suggested that she’d protect herself better this time. “She said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to put it all on the line again,'” says Anthony, of the National First Ladies Library. “‘It’s not the be-all and the end-all.'”… Candidates’ spouses have been an important campaign presence since 1920, when Florence Harding spoke to women’s groups from her front porch, says Anthony, the historian. Mamie Eisenhower was famous for her speeches from her husband’s whistle-stop train. Pat Nixon and Jackie Kennedy both wrote articles boosting their husbands, and Lady Bird Johnson struck out on her own through the Deep South in 1964. – AP, 10-31-08
  • Julien Vaisse “Misunderstanding of US underlies global Obama-mania: analysts”: For Julien Vaisse, a French historian at the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington, one has to see Obama’s economic, political and social policies from an American perspective.”I’m not saying that he is not someone we can believe in. I am just speaking to the fascination that he gives rise to,” Vaisse said. “His charisma is undeniably similar to Bill Clinton’s, which made them (Europeans) forget that he is American.” – AFP, 10-31-08
  • Matthew Whitaker “Blacks’ emotions swell as Obama chases history”: At the local level, African-Americans have made some significant political gains lately, said Matthew Whitaker, a history professor at Arizona State University. In recent years, they have won seats on several school boards, city councils and town boards, often in mostly White communities. Those positions could serve as springboards for statewide offices, Whitaker said. – Arizona Republic, AZ, 10-31-08
  • Alex Keyassar “Anxious voters hurry up and wait 19 percent of Peoria voters cast ballots ahead of Tuesday election”: That effort was a public act of engagement and participation giving a sense of ownership in the process, according to Alex Keyssar, professor of history and social policy at Harvard University. “Early voting for us in our history is important because of the inadequacies of our voting system to handle high turnout,” he said. “Early voting is not as desirable as a functioning system.” Voting on a holiday or Sunday, as is the custom in many countries, is a worthwhile notion, he said. “Voting is an act of participation that gives people a sense of engagement and ownership over the process. It’s an important thing to do,” Keyssar said. “Because of the attraction of Barack Obama, turnout will be high. The significance of government is underscored. It is clear that only a national government remotely has the tools to deal with this current financial crisis. After eight years of what has been an ideological emphasis on less government and diminishing sense of the importance of government, the role of government is underscored and brought home.” – Peoria Journal Star, IL, 11-2-08
  • Myra Gutin: “Will next first lady be a Bess or an Eleanor?”: “Eleanor Roosevelt was the most active first lady of all time; Bess Truman was the least active of the 20th Century,” says Myra Gutin, an historian of first ladies and a communications professor at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. “We’ve not had a ceremonial first lady since Bess Truman. The position has continually evolved but not necessarily in a chronological development.” “Americans don’t exactly know what they want from a first lady,” Gutin says. “When Hillary Clinton was first lady, she had an office in the West Wing, which made a lot of people unhappy. But there are people who are unhappy with Laura Bush for not taking advantage of the White House podium. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”… “There seems to be a reserve about her (Cindy McCain),” Gutin says. “That kind of scrutiny is tough for anyone but for someone reticent, it can really be a challenge.”… Obama “is a very capable, articulate, bright woman and most likely is going to be an activist first lady,” Gutin says. “And she will be the first one to confront the issue of how to deal with very young children in the White House” since John F. Kennedy. – Detroit Free Press, 10-26-08
  • Carl Sferrazza Anthony: “Will next first lady be a Bess or an Eleanor?”: Why does it matter? Carl Sferrazza Anthony, historian for the National First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio, says the role says as much about America as it does about those who inhabited it. “It opens a window on so many fascinating dialogues about our highly contradictory, highly individualist, unique American culture and the many contradictions we have about women and men,” he says… “It’s the mythological figure of the first lady, a summation of all of them or all the things we’ve liked or like to think we remember liking about them, and it’s somehow quite sacred,” Anthony says. “They take on relic- like status.” Then we “lock these women in a china closet.” – Detroit Free Press, 10-26-08

On The Campaign Trail…

  • November 2, 2008: John McCain in a rally at Strath Haven High School, PA Now let me give you a little straight talk about the state of the race today. There’s just two days left. We’re a couple of points behind in Pennsylvania. The pundits have written us off, just like they’ve done before….
    My friends, the Mac is back!
    The other night, Senator Obama said that if he lost, he would return to the Senate and try again in four years for the second act. That sounds like a great idea to me! Let’s help him make it happen….
    I think that Tom Ridge — and President Bush — deserve some credit for the fact there’s not been another attack on the United States of America since 9/11,’
  • November 2, 2008: Obama say he might be headed for a win Tuesday The past couple of days I’ve just been feeling good….You start thinking maybe we might be able to win an election on November 4.
  • November 2, 2008: Sarah Palin at a Ohio Rally: A little advice to Tina Fey. I want to make sure she’s holding on to that Sarah outfit. Because she’s gonna need it in the next four years.
  • November 2, 2008: : If you have not voted yet, it would be a shame for you to come to a rally and not vote. Go vote now. Do not delay!…. It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick, but you and I know it’s time to come together and change this country. We can’t let this slip away….
    Washington will have to tighten its belt and put off spending on things we don’t need. As President, I will go through the federal budget, line-by-line, ending programs that we don’t need and making the ones we do need work better and cost less.
  • October 31, 2008: Joe Biden to a gropup of reporters in Lima, Ohio: We’ve been down this road before. I felt awful good about this time, you know in the Kerry campaign and I felt good in the Gore campaign and so, so, this, that old joke, you know, it ain’t over till it’s over. I don’t, you know, I mean we feel good, we look good but it’s not over yet….Look, I’m a politician who has run scared in every single election. The fact of the matter is that I have, I have done relatively well in my own elections but I have never, never, before the polls close said, man, this is in the bag….
    We can’t get this done with just Democrats, even if we control, even if we’re lucky enough to get to 60 senators…. I don’t know. I hope it’s intact. I still admire him. I still like him. One of the things I’ve admired about John, and why I’ve considered him a friend, he never gives up. So I just hope when it’s over, win or lose, you walk up and you shake hands and say, “John, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
  • October 31, 2008: John McCain in Hanoverton, Ohio: The pundits have written us off, just like they’ve done before. But we’re closing my friends and we’re going to win in Ohio! My opponent is working out the details with speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise your taxes, increase spending and concede defeat in Iraq. He’s measuring the drapes. And as you noticed, the night before last, he gave his first address to the nation before the election. And this week he settled on a chief of staff!… Just four days left! The pundits have written us off, just like they’ve done before. But we’re closing my friends and we’re going to win in Ohio!…. My opponent is working out the details with speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise your taxes, increase spending and concede defeat in Iraq. He’s measuring the drapes. And as you noticed, the night before last, he gave his first address to the nation before the election. And this week he settled on a chief of staff! We’re a few points down, but we’re coming back and we’re coming back strong.
  • October 31, 2008: Barack Obama in Des Moines, IA: What you started here in Iowa has swept the nation. A whole new way of doing democracy started right here in Iowa and it’s all across the country now… A couple of elections ago, there was a presidential candidate who decried this kind of politics and condemned these kinds of tactics. And I admired him for it – we all did. I will not take the low road to the highest office in this land.’ Those words were spoken eight years ago by my opponent, John McCain, but the high road didn’t lead him to the White House then, so this time, he decided to take a different route. Now, I know campaigns are tough because we’ve got real differences about big issues and we care passionately about this country’s future. And make no mistake, we will respond swiftly and forcefully with the truth to whatever falsehoods they throw our way. The stakes are too high to do anything less.
    I don’t disagree with Senator McCain on everything, and I respect his occasional displays of independence. But when it comes to the economy, when it comes to the central issue of this election, the plain truth is that John McCain has stood with President Bush every step of the way.
    I won’t stand here and pretend that any of this will be easy – especially now. Washington will have to tighten its belt and put off spending on things we don’t need. As President, I will go through the federal budget, line-by-line, ending programs that we don’t need and making the ones we do need work better and cost less.
  • October 30, 2008: Palin says Obama infomercial short on specifics in Erie PA.: In times of economic worry and hardship — crisis that we’re in right now — someone is attempting to put those concerns aside on Election Day — national security issues. Obama “wrapped his closing message in a warm and fuzzy scripted infomercial intended to soften the focus in these closing days. He’s hoping that your mind won’t wander to the real challenges of national security, challenges that he isn’t capable of meeting.”… We’re fighting two wars … They think it’s the perfect time to radically reduce defense spending. What are they thinking?
  • October 30, 2008: John McCain, on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” referring to former President Clinton in defending his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
    “I would remind you again there was an obscure governor of a small state called Arkansas that everybody said wasn’t qualified. Well, I didn’t vote for him, but he got elected and re-elected.”
  • Joe McCain: As a historian, I’m a little less worried about things – I hope I’m not being rosy about it – because we’ve been here before. We’ve been through some eight to eleven economic crashes, depending on which economic historians you talk to….How well we come out of these times absolutely depends on whom we have as the captain of our ship of state…The man you want answering the phone at three in the morning is John McCain. – WTOP News, 10-31-08
  • October 29, 2008, Republican John McCain on his Democratic rival Sen. Obama is running to be redistributionist in chief. I’m running to be commander in chief.
  • October 28, 2008, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden: You can’t call yourself a maverick when all you’ve been the last eight years is a sidekick.
  • October 27, 2008: Sarah Palin told Ambassador Sallai Meridor, at a rally in Leesburg, VA: I look forward to hearing about your work with the Jewish Agency and all the plans that we have. We’ll be working together….
    If big government spenders control the House and the Senate and heaven forbid the White House, they will have a monopoly in Washington
  • October 27, 2008: Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden: New ideas and new leaders are often met with new attacks — almost always negative attacks built on lies which are the last resort of those who have nothing new to offer.
  • October 27, 2008, John McCain in Pottsville, Pa. If I’m elected, I’ll fight to shake up Washington. I’m not afraid of the fight, you’re not afraid of the fight and we’re ready for the fight.
  • October 27, 2008: Barack Obama, Canton Memorial Civic Center, Ohio & October 28, 2008: “The question in this election is not “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” We know the answer to that. The real question is, “Will this country be better off four years from now?”…
    In one week, we can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo. We can come together as one nation, and one people, and once more choose our better history. That’s what’s at stake.
    In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election; that tries to pit region against region, city against town, Republican against Democrat; that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope.
    Government “should ensure a shot at success not just for those with money and power and influence, but for every single American who’s willing to work. John McCain calls this socialism, I call this opportunity.
  • October 27, 2008: John McCain in Cleveland, Ohio: The difference between myself and Senator Obama is our plan will create new jobs; his plan to raise taxes on small businesses, to impose insurance mandates on families and small businesses will cut jobs…. We both disagree with President Bush on economic policy. The difference is that he thinks taxes have been too low, and I think that spending has been too high…. That is what change means for the Obama campaign, the redistributor; It means taking your money and giving it to someone else.
  • “Barack Obama and I both have spent quite some time on the basketball court. But where I come from, you have to win the game before you start cutting down the net.” Sarah Palin
  • October 26, 2008: John McCain on Meet the Press, Discussing the Palins $150,000 Wardrobe Look, she lives a frugal life. She and her family are not wealthy. She and her family were thrust into this, and there was some — and some third of that money is given back, the rest will be donated to charity.
  • October 25, 2008: Barack Obama at the University of New Mexico to Hispanic Voters They’ll ask us is this a time when America lost its sense of purpose, when we lost our nerve, when we allowed the same divisions and fears to point us into a deeper recession or, will they say, is this one of those moments when America overcomes?…It’s time to build this economy by investing in the middle class again, and that’s what I’ll do as president.

October 27, 2008: In the Aftermath of the Debates…

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN 2008 WATCH:

The week that was….

  • October 26, 2008: McCain says ‘I’m going to win it’ as Obama says the Republican is running out of time’ … McCain says Palin returned some of the $150,000 in clothing the Republican Party bought her … The Anchorage Daily News, Alaska’s largest newspaper, endorses Obama for president … – AP
  • October 25, 2008: Obama, campaigning in New Mexico, reaches out to Hispanic voters … McCain looks for votes in West as he portrays Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal … Can’t stop talking: Nader claims Guinness record for speech making – AP
  • October 24, 2008: Obama spends records in first 2 weeks; cash reserves for both candidates dwindle … Obama leaves campaign trail to visit ill grandmother … Former Mass. Gov. William Weld, a Republican, endorses Obama for ‘ability to unify’ … McCain soldiers on in Colorado despite cutting ad spending and trailing Obama in polls AP
    McCain says Obama’s economic plan would harm middle class; warns against one-party control … Palin to speak under oath on Troopergate firing … Biden dismisses McCain claim on change as Democrat campaigns in West Virginia … McCain campaign pays Palin’s makeup artist more than foreign policy adviser in October … Obama leaves campaign trail to visit ill grandmother … Former Mass. Gov. William Weld, a Republican, endorses Obama for ‘ability to unify’ – AP
    Lieberman skirts question on whether Palin is ready to be president … McCain’s brother dropping out of campaign after calling 911 to complain about traffic … Ex-Justice lawyers want attorney general to ensure investigation won’t hinder minority voters …. – AP
  • October 23, 2008: Palin blames ‘double standard’ for flap over her designer clothes … Grandmother ailing, Obama returns to Hawaii for what might be their final visit … McCain soldiers on in Colorado despite cutting ad spending and trailing Obama in polls … — AP
    Obama launches sharp offensive in Indiana against McCain’s corporate tax breaks … McCain says Obama changed tax plan to avoid criticism … Biden tells NC audience McCain is getting out of control when steady hand needed … McCain keeps comment short on Palin’s GOP-paid $150,000 shopping spree … Former Minn. Gov. Carlson, a Republican, endorses Obama for president … On election night, McCain to speak to supporters’ via television from hotel lawn – AP
  • October 22, 2008: McCain to traverse Florida with ‘Joe the Plumber’ as the focus of his anti-tax pitch … Obama to campaign in red-state Indiana before flying to visit ill grandmother in Hawaii … Biden lashes out at corporate executives who make millions while their employees lose pensions – AP….
    AP poll: McCain gains, drawing even with Obama with two weeks until Election Day … Obama says he only wants to reverse tax cuts for the wealthy that McCain himself opposed … McCain asks New Hampshire voters for another come-from-behind victory … Palin calls Obama “Barack the wealth spreader” … GOP spent $150,000 in campaign funds to accessorize Palin — AP
  • October 21, 2008: In tossup Florida, Obama says McCain offers ‘willful ignorance, wishful thinking’ on economy … McCain reminds Biden he’s been tested in just the kind of crisis he warns Obama may face … Obama spends $87.5 million in September; entered October with $133.6 million in hand … Negative ads leave undecideds decidedly unmoved — AP
    Obama takes on national security while keeping focus on economy during Va. swing … McCain returns to NH, site of two pivotal primary wins, hoping to stave off November loss … Palin charged state for children’s travel, later amended expense reports –
  • October 20, 2008: Obama to take time off from campaign to go to Hawaii to visit ill, 85-year-old grandmother … McCain says his concern about Obama’s readiness for presidency is bolstered by Biden’s warning … Obama brings Democratic governors of GOP states to Florida for summit on his jobs plan. AP
    Obama spends $87.5 million in September; enters October with $133.6 million in hand … McCain dismisses idea that the economy is a losing issue for his presidential campaign … Obama brings Democratic governors of GOP states to Florida for summit on his jobs plan – AP….
    Obama invokes Reagan line to criticize handling of the economy; vows to halt foreclosures … McCain, supporters target liberal, feminists, media to rally GOP base in bellwether Missouri … McCain spends $37 million in September, has $47 million for campaign in October … Sarah Palin hits Obama again on taxes … Biden’s medical records show he appears in very good health 20 years after aneurysm – AP
  • October 19, 2008: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorses Obama, criticizes tone of McCain’s campaign … Palins set to give depositions to Troopergate investigator this week … Obama exudes confidence, reaches for decisive victory in Republican states. – AP

The Stats

  • October 25, 2008: John McCain leads Barack Obama nationally by 22 percentage points among white men and by 7 points among white women, according to a recent AP-GfK survey. – AP
  • October 23, 2008: Democrat Barack Obama has a 7-percentage-point lead over Republican John McCain — 50 percent to 43 percent — among registered voters, according to the latest Gallup Poll daily tracking update. – AP, 10-23-08
  • October 22, 2008: John McCain has an 18-percentage-point lead among rural voters over Barack Obama, according to a recent AP-GfK survey – AP, 10-22-08
  • October 22, 2008: Associated Press-GfK poll found Obama at 44 percent and McCain at 43 percent – AP, 10-22-08
  • October 22, 2008: Democrat Barack Obama has a 9-percentage-point lead over Republican John McCain — 51 percent to 42 percent — among registered voters, according to the latest Gallup Poll daily tracking update. – AP, 10-22-08
  • October 19, 2008: Democrat Barack Obama is trusted more than Republican John McCain to improve the economy by 54 percent to 44 percent and to handle the financial crisis by 53 percent to 46 percent, according to a recent AP-Yahoo News poll. – AP, 10-19-08
  • October 14, 2008: 63.2 million: The number of viewers watching the second presidential debate on Oct. 7 between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In the News…

Campaign Bloopers

Historians’ Comments

  • Julian Zelizer “Historians Size Up Obama’s Timeout”: Though Mr. Obama is leading in the polls, “there are still so many uncertainties, and 36 hours is a lot of time in two weeks,” said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. “Even having television campaigning isn’t the same as being there in person. There is a cost.” Still, he said, the lost personal connection with undecided voters could be offset by the focus of media attention on Mr. Obama’s personal life and his compassion. “One of the issues that Obama has faced is people literally knowing who he is,” Mr. Zelizer continued, noting that opponents had tried to raise questions in voters minds like “is he a socialist, aligned with terrorists?” – NYT, 10-21-08
  • Stephen Hess “Historians Size Up Obama’s Timeout”: Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution also saw potential that the trip could help flesh out voters’ image of Mr. Obama. “They say he’s too mechanical, he’s cool, and here he does something terribly human,” Mr. Hess said in a telephone interview. “This isn’t planned by his strategist. He made the case in his book that she is very important to him. You can turn it around and ask, ‘What if he didn’t go?'” In short, he said, “It’s an awful thing to say — but it’s a political plus.” And besides, Mr. Hess added, “people in Ohio have grandmothers, too.” – NYT, 10-21-08
  • Doug Wead “Historians Size Up Obama’s Timeout”: Doug Wead, the controversial presidential historian — he has written about presidential families and revealed in 2005 that he had secretly taped George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas — found a somewhat comparable situation from a century ago, involving William Howard Taft. In 1907, Taft was secretary of war under Theodore Roosevelt, his close friend and adviser, who had promised not to run again and had chosen Taft as his preferred successor. Roosevelt urged Taft to make a round-the-world goodwill trip and get to know world leaders before the 1908 election. But there was a problem. “Taft was very much a mamma’s boy,” Mr. Wead said in a telephone interview today. “His mother was dying, and he thought that he had to cancel the trip.” Louisa Torrey Taft would not hear of it, though. Mr. Wead said she wrote her son a letter that said, in effect, “No Taft to my knowledge has ever turned down a public duty to fulfill a private need.” Taft went on the world tour, and his mother died while he was away, two months before her 80th birthday. Still, he won the presidency the following year, in an era before the extensive personal campaigning that marks today’s presidential politics. – NYT, 10-21-08
  • Gil Troy “Stuck In the Muck Mudslinging Isn’t New. Here’s the Messy Truth”: “Everybody always assumes there was a golden age of presidential campaigning that occurred 20 years ago,” says Gil Troy, an American history scholar at McGill University. “Almost from the start, American politics had its two sides — it had its Sunday morning high church sermon side, and it had its Saturday night rough-and- tumble ugly side.”… Oh, “John Quincy Adams was accused of pimping for the czar,” Troy says. Really. The czar of Russia. The press backing Jackson labeled Adams “The Pimp.” – Washington Post, 10-13-08
  • David A. Hollinger: Palin Distorts Small-Town America – New West Politics, 10-12-08
  • David S. Tanenhaus: Barack, Bill, and MeThe Bill Ayers that Barack Obama and I worked with was no “domestic terrorist.” – Slate, 10-10-08
  • Julian Zelizer “Palin Abused Power in Trooper Case, Alaska Probe Says”: “It’s one more blow to a deeply troubled campaign,” said Julian Zelizer, a history and public affairs professor at Princeton University in New Jersey. “The report on Palin raises more questions about why McCain made this choice and how much he really cares about fighting corruption.” – Bloomberg, 10-11-08
  • Dewar MacLeod “A lesson for WPU students in making every vote count”: “Democracy is not something that happens only once every four years; democracy needs to happen every single day. While this year’s ongoing presidential election promises to bring millions of new voters, especially the young, I hope students will also explore and participate in the ongoing process of civic engagement. Our democracy is only as strong as citizens are willing to make it.” – NorthJersey.com, NJ, 10-11-08
  • Peter Kastor “If history is guide, path to White House is through Missouri”: “Missouri is in the middle of the country geographically but also the center of the country politically,” Washington University history professor Peter Kastor said. “It is a state where various regional political cultures all exist.” – AFP, 10-10-08

On The Campaign Trail….

  • October 26, 2008: John McCain on Meet the Press, Discussing the Palins $150,000 Wardrobe Look, she lives a frugal life. She and her family are not wealthy. She and her family were thrust into this, and there was some — and some third of that money is given back, the rest will be donated to charity.
  • October 25, 2008: Barack Obama at the University of New Mexico to Hispanic Voters They’ll ask us is this a time when America lost its sense of purpose, when we lost our nerve, when we allowed the same divisions and fears to point us into a deeper recession or, will they say, is this one of those moments when America overcomes?…It’s time to build this economy by investing in the middle class again, and that’s what I’ll do as president.
  • October 25, 2008: John McCain in New Mexico: I’m a fellow Westerner, I understand the issues, I understand the challenges the great Western states face. We know what our great Southwest is, we welcome it and I’m proud to be a senator from the West.
  • “We’re a few points down and the pundits, of course, as they have four or five times, have written us off. We’ve got them just where we want them.” — John McCain.
  • October 24, 2008: John McCain at a rally in Denver The answer to a slowing economy is not higher taxes, but that is exactly what is going to happen when the Democrats have total control in Washington….
    Anytime you hear talk of a targeted tax increase, you might want to double-check the skill of the marksman — the U.S Congress has been known to fire wildly. America didn’t become the greatest nation on earth by giving our money to the government to spread the wealth around.
  • October 24, 2008: Biden said during an outdoor rally in CHARLESTON, W.Va. I know Halloween is coming, but John McCain as the candidate of change? Whoa, come on, John McCain and change? He needs a costume for that. Folks, the American people aren’t going to buy this.
  • “And too often, even if our own day, it seems that children with special needs have been set apart and excluded. Too often state and federal laws add to those challenges. … And I’m going to work to change that.” — Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
  • October 24, 2008: Joe Lieberman on Sarah Palin’s readiness Thank God, she’s not gonna have to be president from day one, because McCain’s going to be alive and well… If, God forbid, an accident occurs or something of that kind, she’ll be ready. She’s had executive experience. She’s smart and she will have had on-the-job training. I hope and pray, and I am working my heart out for McCain to be elected our next president, but if for whatever the reason he is not, I am going to do everything I can to be part of bringing people together across party lines to support the new president so he can succeed. What’s at stake for our country is just too serious.
  • October 23, 2008: John McCain in Ormond Beach, Florida: Thirteen days to go, and he changed his tax plan because the American people had learned the truth about it and they didn’t like it. It’s another example that he’ll say anything to get elected.
  • October 22, 2008: Barack Obama John McCain likes to talk about Joe the Plumber, but he’s in cahoots with Joe the CEO.
  • October 22, 2008: Barack Obama at a News Conference in Response to Republican Assertions Was John McCain a socialist back in 2000? I think it’s an indication that they have run out of ideas.
  • October 22, 2008: John McCain at a rally in a college hockey rink in GOFFSTOWN, N.H. I love you. I love New Hampshire. I know I can count on you again to come from behind and take a victory and bring it all the way to Washington, D.C., next January. I’m asking you to come out one more time. Get out the vote.
    Acting like the election is over won’t let him take away your chance to have the final say in this election.
  • October 21, 2008: Barack Obama says McCain offers ‘willful ignorance’ While President Bush and Sen. McCain were ready to move heaven and earth to address the crisis on Wall Street, the president has failed so far to address the crisis on Main Street, and Sen. McCain has failed to fully acknowledge it.
  • October 21, 2008: John McCain speaking about the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis in HARRISBURG, Pa.: I was on board the USS Enterprise. I sat in the cockpit, on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise, off of Cuba. I had a target. My friends, you know how close we came to a nuclear war.
  • October 20, 2008: John McCain in Belton, Mo. responding to Joe bidens comments: Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy: We don’t want a president who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars. What is more troubling is that Sen. Biden told their campaign donors that when that crisis hits, they would have to stand with them, because it wouldn’t be apparent Sen. Obama would have the right response. Forget apparent. Sen. Obama won’t have the right response, and we know that because we’ve seen the wrong response from him over and over during this campaign.
  • October 20, 2008: Sarah Palin: I have voted along with the vast majority of Alaskans … to amend our Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. I wish on a federal level that’s where we would go.
  • October 20, 2008: Barack Obama Speaking in Miami: I’ve got news for Sen. McCain: Hardworking families who’ve been hard hit by this economic crisis — folks who can’t pay their mortgages or their medical bills or send their kids to college — they can’t afford to wait and see. They can’t afford to go to the back of the line behind CEOs and Wall Street banks.
  • October 20, 2008: Barack Obama in Tampa, FL, using Ronald Reagan Campaign line in 1980: At this rate, the question isn’t just “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” It’s “Are you better off than you were four weeks ago?”
  • October 19, 2008: Colin Powell endorsing Barack Obama on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: It isn’t easy for me to disappoint Senator McCain in the way that I have this morning, and I regret that. I think we need a transformational figure. I think we need a president who is a generational change and that’s why I’m supporting Barack Obama, not out of any lack of respect or admiration for Senator John McCain.
    I found that (John McCain) was a little unsure as to how to deal with the economic problems that we were having. Almost every day there was a different approach to the problem and that concerned me, sensing that he doesn’t have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we had.

February 7, 1839: Henry Clay declares “I had rather be right than president.”

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

HNN, Monday, February 4, 2008

On this day in history…. February 7, 1839 Henry Clay declares in the United States Senate “I had rather be right than president.”

The venerable politician and statesman Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky believed his time to win the Presidency would finally be ripe in 1840. There were many obstacles to his winning the Whig Party’s nomination. One of the most contentious issues in the country in the antebellum period was slavery. Clay tried to take a centrist position, but accusations flew in both the North and the South that he favored extremes. In the North he was accused of “being ultra” in favor of Southern slaveholders. In the South he was accused of being an abolitionist who plotted secretly to abolish slavery. (Remini, 525) As the historian Robert Remini explains, “It may have occurred to Clay that his apparent middle-of- the-road position invited attacks from both sides of the slavery question.” (Remini, 525) Clay felt the charges that he was an abolitionist were detrimental to his chances for the presidency, and he needed to clarify his views on the slavery question. But he intended to stick to his views regardless of the political consequences. As he famously said, “I had rather be right than president.”

In order eventually to capture the nomination he needed support from Southern Whigs, but at the same time, he needed support from the Northern Quakers who were passive abolitionists. The most important aspect was to distinguish himself from the most extreme abolitionists, the “ultras” which he did in a Senate speech on February 7, 1839. Clay’s speech, “Petitions for the Abolition of Slavery,” supposedly addressed a petition by Washington DC’s residents to abolish slavery in the district. Clay actually wrote the petition himself.

The speech was Clay at his worse, which his supporters lamented. As Carl Schurz writes, “It was an apology for his better self. Formerly he had spoken as a born anti-slavery man, who to his profound regret found himself compelled to make concessions to slavery. Now he appeared as one inclined to deplore the attacks on slavery no less, if not more, than the existence of slavery itself.” (Schurz, 164)

In the speech, Clay claimed the only thing he had in common with the abolitionists was “abhorrence of slavery,” but their positions were entirely different, and in no way did he identify with them. Clay hoped this would put the speculation to rest that he harbored secret abolitionist desires. He laid out in the speech the history of the “peculiar institution,” the constitutional and legal questions surrounding it, and the course of action that should be taken to resolve slavery. It was here that he distinguished himself most from the abolitionists while attacking their solution to the slavery problem.

As Remini writes, Clay charged that abolitionists were “setting back emancipation half a century” by their agitation. (Remini, 526) Still, he believed that emancipation was not the answer. Clay claimed he did not believe that blacks and whites could live in racial harmony, as abolitionists claimed. As Thomas Brown writes, Clay believed that the “Freed slaves would flood the North, compete with white laborers, and drive down their wages, or the country, would be convulsed by interracial warfare as blacks and whites sought to preserve the purity and separateness of the races.” (Brown, 144) Clay was concerned that a power struggle would lead to a war between the races, especially since the slaves outnumbered whites in some Southern states. Clay believed that this power struggle would lead to Civil War, and suggested that the status quo was the best approach to take to the slavery question. “It is not better for both parties that the existing state of things should be preserved, instead of exposing them to the horrible strifes and contests which would inevitably attend immediate abolition.” (Remini, 526)

According to Clay “time” was the solution that would eventually end slavery, stating, “Providence will cure all-abolition nothing. It may ruin all; it can save none.” (Remini, 526) He then proceeded to make a plea to the ultra-abolitionists to cease their crusade for the sake of the country. “I beseech the abolitionists themselves, solemnly to pause in their mad and fatal course,” he stated. Clay continued: “Amid the infinite variety objects of humanity and benevolence which invite the employment of their energies, let them select some one more harmless, that does not threaten to deluge our country in blood.” (Remini, 526)

The reactions to Clay’s speech were far ranging. For the most part the speech boosted Southerners’ opinion of Clay. As Shurz writes, “Clay received his reward — or punishment — immediately.” (Shurz, 166) After he finished speaking Senator John C. Calhoun, from South Carolina, lauded Clay, praising him for understanding the dangers of the abolitionist movement. Carl Schurz in his biography of Clay believed Calhoun stood up “as if to accept his surrender.” However, Remini describes Cahoun’s enthusiasm as “So spontaneous, so sincere, so fervent … that some wondered if another political alliance between northern money and southern cotton had been struck.” (Remini, 526) This alluded to the “corrupt bargain” of 1825, which handed John Quincy Adams the Presidency despite the fact that Andrew Jackson won the popular vote.

Calhoun proclaimed, “I heard the Senator from Kentucky with pleasure. His speech will have a happy effect, and will do much to consummate what had already been so happily begun and successfully carried on to a completion.” (Shurz, 167) Clay wanted the nomination so much that he had to take Calhoun’s humiliating words without saying anything. As Schurz explains, “Calhoun assigned to him a place in his church on the bench of the penitents, and the candidate for the presidency took the insult without wincing.” (Shurz, 168)

The speech offended the abolitionists, giving Clay the results he was looking for, distancing himself from them. Clay hoped his speech would increase his support among those he needed to help him garner the nomination. Still it was a turn off to many Northerners. Clay supporters like James G. Birney and John Greenleaf Whittier, who “once idolized Clay, now cast him off as something loathsomely hypocritical.” (Remini, 526) Clay claimed he wasn’t surprised by the response. “My abolition Speech was made after full deliberation,” he told a friend. “I expected it would enrage the Ultra’s more than ever against me, and I have not been disappointed.” (Remini, 527)

Clay should not have been surprised by the negative reaction or the long-term consequences. Before he delivered it, he read it to Senator William C. Preston of South Carolina, and several of his friends and colleagues to get their opinion. They believed that “The speech bears all the marks of that careful weighing of words characteristic of a candidate ‘defining his position’ on a delicate subject.” (Schurz, 164) One of the men believed it could have a negative impact on his presidential prospects, offending both the abolitionists and the pro-slavery factions. Upon hearing this Clay proclaimed the classic phrase he is most remembered for: “I trust the sentiments and opinions are correct, I HAD RATHER BE RIGHT THAN BE PRESIDENT.” Remini describes it as “the immortal utterance, the classic rejoinder, one that quickly entered the lexicon of American politics and was always associated with Clay’s name.” (Remini, 527)

Senator Preston repeated these words in a speech to a Whig rally in Philadelphia the following month announcing the phrase to the public. Then almost immediately Clay’s words were the talk of the nation, the newspapers reprinted his speech, and citizens found it to “noble and patriotic” and appropriate, while critics and “hard-nosed” politicians laughed upon hearing it. (Remini, 527) Clay may have wanted to be right, but he also wanted the Presidency, and his chances were slipping from him.

Soon after the speech, Clay felt the backlash. First Daniel Webster charged that Clay caused the Whigs to lose the 1838 election in Maine, and that the party should instead support a candidate who had more appeal, such as General William Henry Harrison. Webster was deliberately mounting a campaign against Clay, even going as far as to blame him for losing Harrison’s state, Ohio, in the 1838 election. To cap off this crusade, at the Anti-Mason National Convention in November 1839, the group nominated Harrison for President and Webster for Vice-President.

Politicians in the North, Abolitionists, and anti-Masons preferred Harrison as a presidential candidate to Clay. Another candidate who drew support was General Winfield Scott, whose military record was akin to Andrew Jackson’s. Fortunately for Clay, Webster took himself out of the running for the Whig nomination when he departed for England in 1839. Still Clay believed the nomination was his. As he wrote, “Moderation, conciliation, and decision, but above all firmness and decision should be our course. May it be guided by wisdom and lead to victory.” (Remini, 531)

Even before the Whig Convention Clay lost New York. Thurlow Weed, as Brown explains, thought “Clay had gone too far in his attacks [on abolitionists].” (Brown, 145) Both Weed and Thaddeus Stevens were Anti-Mason leaders, and wanted anybody but Clay as the nominee; they devised a plan to strip Clay of his 254-delegate majority.

A friend of Webster’s, Peleg Sprague, introduced a motion that changed the voting. Each state would choose three delegates to a committee, the committee in turn would ask their state which candidate they preferred. A vote would be held in private, and when there was a state consensus, the delegates would report it to the full convention. Clay’s supporters could not stop the motion even through it was obviously designed to strip Clay of the nomination, and soon Clay’s majority melted. Stevens and Weed preferred Harrison to Scott or Clay, but Scott’s candidacy seemed to benefit from their maneuvering. To counter this, Stevens released to the delegates a letter Scott wrote to Francis Granger that appeared favorable to the abolitionists. This was enough to damage Scott’s propsects and give Harrison–the least controversial choice–the nomination. Clay’s chance to capture the Presidency had ended.

Anti-Masons and abolitionists, the two groups Clay alienated with his February 7, 1839 speech, controlled the Whig Party. But Clay, says Remini, “also had a hand in engineering his [own] defeat. His Senate speech on February 7, 1839, against the abolitionists, more than any other single factor, undoubtedly prevented him from gaining a single northern state at the convention ‘except glorious Rhode Island.’ ‘I had rather be right than President,’ Clay had announced. So be it, responded the delegates.” (Remini, 554) Henry Clay would live to regret his words on the Senate floor, because ultimately they caused him to lose the nomination he wanted more than anything.

As we are now reaching a defining moment in the 2008 campaign with Super Tuesday around the corner, another candidate has been compared to Clay. Hillary Clinton has been haunted by her Senate vote for the Iraq war, but has refused to apologize for it, though her position on the war has evolved. In a February 2007 Christian Science Monitor article Daniel Schorr wrote, “Whether that will appease her supporters remains to be seen. What they apparently will not get from her are those three little words. ‘I am sorry.’ What her lack of contrition will cost her, that also remains to be seen…. She may take comfort from the ‘great compromiser,’ Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky, who on the Senate floor in 1839 declared, ‘I had rather be right than president.'”

Sources and further reading:

Thomas Brown, Politics and Statesmanship: Essays on the American Whig Party, Columbia University Press, 1985.

Henry Clay, The Works of Henry Clay, Barnes & Burr, 1863.

Robert Vincent Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Daniel Schorr, “Will voters accept Hillary Clinton’s nonapology? Her vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq might cost her the presidency,” Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2007.

Carl Schurz, Life of Henry Clay: American Statesmen, Volume: 2, Houghton Mifflin, 1899.

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