12/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Getting to Know Barack Obama: A Benefit of Two-Year Campaigns

Have I become so addicted to polls, pundits, and projections that I will actually miss them after the polls close on November 4?

What will we talk about?

There will always be the results to dissect, who won, who lost, where and why? And the down ticket races will move into the conversation: Senate, House, and Governor's races.

But the suspense will be gone. Right now, about two days before the results will be known, I say to myself, "Thank God." I can't bear to wait much longer.

Many complain that the campaign has been too long, too expensive, and too vituperative. And they are right. American elections, unlike elections in Parliamentary systems, wear out both the candidates and the voters. In a Parliamentary system, the Prime Minister, who is also the head of the party, can "call" an election between four and six weeks before the vote. That's it. Campaigns -from start to finish--take place in a matter of weeks, not years. There are no primary campaigns in these countries.

It is our process, intensified by the hunger of the media to report on the next election years before it occurs, which results in an almost endless campaign season.

On the plus side, as I look back on a year ago, when we were just warming up for the primaries, I conclude that there is a strong chance that Barack Obama would not have won the Democratic nomination if the process had been more shorter and more efficient. Neither would Hillary Clinton have come in second place.

These were two non-traditional candidates, compared to the usual cast of white men who had won Presidential primaries throughout our history. We had to take our time to get to know them.

I remember my impressions during the early debates when I was a Hillary Clinton supporter. Some bias crept into my reaction to Barack Obama, but I felt he was not ready. He did not seem Presidential, compared to the others in the Democratic Primary line-up.

In a year's time, we have had the opportunity to watch him grow, in stature, in competence, and in confidence--both his and ours. This long election season has given the voters an opportunity to get used to the different portrait of an American President.

The qualities that once jumped out to us--that he was African American and that he was young--have disappeared for many voters. Not only has he changed; we also have changed. We feel, over this period of time, that we have gotten to know him, and he, in turn, has gotten to know the American voter, in all his and her permutations.

Yes, there is a silly side and a nasty side to campaigns which we would like to forget. The process is not always fair, the press is sometimes lazy or biased or both. The endless commercials grate on our nerves and insult our intelligence.

But in 2008 that is the price we had to pay to nominate and quite possibly elect, a non-traditional candidate.

As a woman who has been elected to public office nine times, I know I learned my most valuable lessons on the campaign trail. The people I met in their homes, factories, farms, and in the streets, educated me. Their stories did not just become sound bites in the manner of Joe the so-called Plumber. They gave me insights into why I was running and what I hoped to accomplish.

On a different scale, that is what this long campaign has done for Barack Obama. All those crowds, all those handshakes, all those living rooms, helped to educate him, to combine soaring rhetoric with specific substance. And the long primary battle with Hillary Clinton, as he himself has said, made him a stronger candidate and will, if he is elected, make him a better President.

We, the voters have traveled on a steep learning curve as well. This man is no stranger to us any more. The 30-minute paid political commercial enabled us to cultivate a longer attention span. The fact that 33 million Americans watched it is testimony to both the candidate for giving us depth and breadth instead of a few sentences, and to the voters for giving him their full and serious attention.

Barack Obama could not be where he is today, on the brink of a projected victory, without the blessing and the burden of this long campaign. So I will be patient for a day longer, believing that it will have been worth the wait.

This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.