I kept saying the Clinton/Obama battle was beneficial to Obama at the time the war between the two opposing Democratic camps was raging, citing the same reasons outlined below, but my Obama-supporting opponents didn't believe me at the time:
Turns out that Democrats who were sweating the endless Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton battle apparently had nothing to worry about.
Yep, it got testy at times. Remember that Clinton spot that challenged Obama's experience?
"It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing."
But some of the biggest names in the political business who gathered last week at KU's [Kansas University] Dole Institute of Politics concluded that the Obama-Clinton battle was almost all good, at least for the Democrats.
One key: Obama and Clinton always stepped back from the brink.
"The extensive Democratic primary was a huge edge for the Democrats," said Christian Ferry, deputy campaign manager for John McCain and Sarah Palin.
The intense media focus on the historic Democratic scrum left McCain forgotten and adrift, the experts said. It gave Obama time to develop his sea legs. Case in point: the hot debate over a proposed suspension of the 18-cent-a-gallon federal gasoline tax between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Clinton and McCain favored the idea. Obama opposed it and, following a fierce exchange with his rivals, gained points for doing so.
"It gave him confidence," said Steve Hildebrand, Obama's deputy campaign manager.
Obama was clearly at a disadvantage early in the primary, as he tried to place nice and was literally standing in the shadow of the heir-apparent Hillary Clinton, but the twenty odd debates and intense, direct confrontational style of Clinton definitely toughened him and his machine against the tough road that lie ahead.
Other tidbits from the conference:
•The Obama crowd panicked over McCain's "celebrity" spot comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. The ad's suggestion: Obama was no more than a superstar candidate unprepared to lead.
"That was the first time I started to freak out," Hildebrand said. If the notion sunk in, "we'd be in trouble."
•One of the biggest decisions of the campaign -- whether to accept $84 million in taxpayer dollars for the fall campaign or forgo it and try to raise more money privately -- was an easy call for both camps. Obama rejected the $84 million and raised a total of $745 million.
Most voters, Hildebrand said, don't really care where campaigns get their money.
McCain, who helped write the public-financing law, had little choice but to accept it, his aides said. Ferry: "It was not an issue for discussion."
•Until the October economic meltdown, the McCain camp was pumped, believing he still had a path to victory.
•Sophisticated planning in the McCain campaign? There wasn't much. "We were a small, hodgepodge organization," said Sarah Simmons, McCain's director of strategy.
•Extensive Obama get-out-the-vote operations in nine states proved decisive, Hildebrand said. Without them in states such as Florida, North Carolina, Indiana, Colorado and Virginia, Obama would have lost.
Obama had to work hard to get out the vote to defeat Clinton in the primaries, and the experience gained through that exercise proved to be the key turning point in the November election,
Anytime you have the opportunity to subject your candidate to 'temper by fire' in a 'preliminary bout' you're going to make them stronger for the main event that lies ahead. Casper Milktoast McCain floundered getting his organization up and running after being down and out of the race in January of this year while Obama's team had been up and running under a full head of steam by that time.
The proof was in the pudding, but damn - we had to break a few eggs along the way...
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