Barack Obama ran a great campaign. While shattering all fundraising records, he created a movement backed by small donors, not big lobbyists. Using community organizing techniques derided by his GOP opponents, he mobilized millions of supporters and gave them an ownership stake in his historic candidacy.
But he got some invaluable help along the way. With the post-election analysis season almost over, it's worth taking one final look at some of the characters who ensured President-elect Obama would make it to the White House.
This list is devoted to a special breed, seasoned political players and 15-minutes of famers alike, who did everything they could to stop Obama, only to see their efforts backfire. It's a bipartisan honor, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. For obvious reasons, this list omits the folks with the most to gain from Obama's defeat, namely, John McCain and Sarah Palin, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Although they also deserve special recognition for trying every boneheaded trick they could dream up.
Jeremiah Wright - The good Reverend's sin was enjoying his turn at the microphone too much. From the start, he was a nuisance and distraction. Wright got irritated with Obama after being asked not to deliver the invocation at his 2007 announcement speech in Springfield, IL, and made sure the press knew about it. Rev. Wrong for Obama should have disappeared after tapes of his most incendiary sermons aired on national TV last March. But by resurfacing barely a month after Obama's masterful speech on race in Philadelphia, Wright tried his best to sabotage the damage control. And by continuing to draw attention to his outrageous beliefs in the process of defending himself, he allowed Obama to repudiate him entirely.
Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt - Joint acclaim for the two strategists who were initially hailed by the press as turning around McCain's campaign. They undid all their own hard work by advising McCain to pick Sarah Palin, thus undercutting Schmidt's strategy of painting Obama as too inexperienced to lead. They urged McCain to ignore his gut instinct to choose either Sen. Joe Lieberman or former Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania. Together, their counsel trumped Mark Salter's preference of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who would have been a formidable VP candidate. Pawlenty's only drawback was that he was sold to McCain as the safe pick, which left him out of step with McCain's need to gamble on a "maverick" choice.
Schmidt also deserves special props for convincing McCain to announce he was temporarily suspending his campaign and returning to Washington for what turned out to be bungled negotiations over the $700 billion financial bailout package. And Davis gets a shout out for signing off on TV spots attacking Obama over ties to former Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac advisors, shortly before it was revealed he had been earning $15,000 a month as a lobbyist on Freddie Mac's payroll for the past several years.
Mark Penn - Assigning honors to Hillary's strategists is tough, because collectively they ran a criminally dysfunctional campaign unequaled in modern politics. But Mark Penn was at the center of much of the infighting and tension that plagued her inner circle. According to Newsweek's behind-the-scenes account of the election, Penn was suspected of being less than honest with the campaign team about polling results that were unfavorable to Hillary, which helped Obama catch them unaware and unprepared with his Iowa caucus victory.
John Edwards and Mike Easley - This pair of North Carolina pols each contributed an assist through the self-serving ways they tried to play the endorsement game. Edwards withheld his endorsement for months, until it was clear Obama would beat Hillary and be the Democratic nominee. Thus Edwards made sure he would not be identified as an Obama team player, and limited damage to the Democrats' chances when Edwards' own career went up in smoke in August in his self-inflicted adultery scandal. Outgoing N.C. Governor Mike Easley endorsed Hillary a week before the state's May 6 primary. In doing so, the unpopular lame duck enraged Obama voters in North Carolina, particularly African-Americans, and solidified Obama's support.
Joe The Plumber - By basking in his moment in the spotlight, and running his mouth about his far-right wing nutty beliefs, he was immediately discredited as a spokesperson for average working stiffs. The unlicensed plumber whose name wasn't even Joe and whose income level would qualify him for a tax cut under Obama's tax plans made a mockery of McCain's last-minute campaign gambit to frighten voters with the spectre of higher taxes.
Sheldon Adelson - The wealthy casino mogul behind the right wing 527 group Freedom's Watch was suspected of being the Republican sugar daddy who anonymously funded the Clarion Fund, which dumped 28 million anti-Islamic scare DVDs in swing states around the country through mailings and paid advertising supplements in newspapers. Adelson and similar fat cats who bankrolled GOP-leaning PAC's wasted lots of money producing an avalanche of hate propaganda - mailers, robocalls, even DVDs. But this campaign tactic has lost much of its effectiveness in a world where people have access to multiple sources of information on the internet, instead of being limited to what they see on TV, read in their newspapers, or find in their mailboxes. Should have spent their cash on registering new Republican voters at conservative churches, state fairs, and NASCAR races.
Geraldine Ferraro - The most prominent member of the Nobama Democrats, she gave credibility to the divisive, time-wasting efforts of pro-Hillary deadenders who clung to PUMA, Just Say No Deal, and other faux-grassroots groups after Obama clinched the nomination. Ferraro was forced to step down from her official role with the Clinton campaign in March after claiming, "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," similar to comments she made in 1988 about an earlier black presidential contender ("If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race"). She reared her head again in May, quoted by the New York Times as saying she might not vote for Obama in the fall, because "I think Obama was terribly sexist."
Yet by refusing to cede her role as a Hillary surrogate, and tirelessly fanning the fames of party disunity, she helped keep media attention on the myth that there were legions of disaffected Hillary voters whose allegiance was available for harvest by any candidate in a pantsuit. Without Ferraro's efforts to keep the gender pot stirring, Sarah Palin might not have presented such a tempting opportunity for Team McCain to make a play for women voters.
Ashley Todd - It didn't get any uglier than this. Dishonorable mention goes to the mentally unstable McCain campaign volunteer with delusions of grandeur who thought she could scare America into believing she was attacked and robbed by a 6' 4" pro-Obama black thug who cut a (backwards) "B" into her face after spotting her McCain bumper sticker. Despite skepticism from police, the McCain camp rushed to exploit the situation, peddling breathless versions of events to the press that could not be confirmed at the time. McCain and Palin even called Todd to wish her well, guaranteeing the incident would receive widespread media coverage. Then Todd's story fell apart, as she admitted it was all a hoax and was charged with filing a false police report. The McCain campaign was left burned and looking even more desperate and unbalanced than they had before, with less than a week to go until the election.
Looking back over this parade of campaign horribles, it's no wonder the GOP blame game started long before election night, when the depths of McCain's meltdown became evident. There's a lot of credit to go around. But every fool on this list can rest assured that despite their worst intentions, they made a unique contribution towards helping the best man win in 2008.
Erik Ose is a veteran of Democratic campaigns in North Carolina and blogs at The Latest Outrage.