Barack Obama: 2008 Presidential Campaign

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How did Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign end? How did Obama secure his victory?

The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama was historic for many reasons. But the biggest one was that Obama won the election and became president.

Read more about the Barack Obama 2008 presidential campaign and how Obama became president.

The Final Stretch of Obama’s 2008 Campaign

With the McCain campaign spiraling and the polls giving him a commanding lead, Barack Obama was the odds-on favorite to win the November 4 general election.

But in the closing days of the campaign, Barack received unsettling news from back home in Hawaii—his maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham (whom he always knew as “Toot”) was seriously ill and was unlikely to survive much longer.

For Barack Obama, the 2008 presidential campaign was coming to a close. And so was part of his life.

An Emotional Farewell

Toot had done much to shape who Barack had become. Growing up as a young woman during the Dust Bowl in Kansas, Toot had known poverty and hardship. Although she was not college educated, Barack’s grandmother had always exhibited a fierce intelligence, tempered by her Midwestern practicality.

Toot believed in the value of hard work and strived to instill that in her grandson. Like him, she had been a trailblazer of sorts, becoming the first female vice president of the Bank of Hawaii. She also embodied what Barack saw as the best of America. She was a white woman born in 1922, who had overcome the severe racial prejudices of the time and place in which she’d been born to embrace her biracial grandson—and his Black family—with unconditional love. In Toot’s story, Barack saw a microcosm of what he believed to be the fundamental goodness and decency of Americans. 

He visited her to say goodbye in Honolulu on October 23, 2008, a mere 12 days before the November 4 election. As he left her for what would be the last time, he wistfully thought of Toot as the last surviving link to his childhood in Hawaii. Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham passed away on November 2, 2008 at the age of 86, two days before her grandson became the first African-American president of the United States. It was a symbolic closing of one chapter of Barack’s life—and the opening of another.

History Made

November 4, 2008, two days after Toot’s death, was election day. After the mad rush of the last two years of campaigning, Barack enjoyed a relatively light schedule. He voted at his polling place in Chicago and waited for the results to come in with a few close friends, family, and campaign staff.

The day was poignant and emotional for everyone, but perhaps for no one more so than his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson. Marian had grown up in Chicago during the 1940s and 1950s, when the city’s neighborhoods were heavily segregated and African-Americans were effectively excluded from much of the city’s cultural, political, and economic life. Barack wondered what she must be thinking as the once-unimaginable idea of a Black president slowly became a reality before her eyes.

Around 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on November 4, 2008, the networks called the race for Barack Obama. He won a landslide seven-point victory in the popular vote and a 365-173 margin in the Electoral College. The campaign had scored Democratic victories in Republican strongholds like Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, and Colorado and brought Democrats large majorities in both the House and Senate. For Barack Obama, the 2008 presidential campaign was a success.

Obama had done the once-unthinkable. The biracial, former underachiever from Honolulu with a funny name had been elected the nation’s first Black president. As he accepted McCain’s gracious concession speech and delivered his victory speech to a raucous crowd of more than 200,000 in Chicago’s Hyde Park, it was impossible not to feel the weight of history on his shoulders.

Barack Obama: 2008 Presidential Campaign

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Barack Obama's "A Promised Land" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full A Promised Land summary:

  • How Barack Obama went from relative obscurity to the first Black president
  • What principles guided his political leadership style
  • Why Obama retained an unshakable faith in the potential and promise of America

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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