Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Changing of the Guard

By Shawn Healy
The 2008 presidential election cycle was certainly one for the record books. Twenty-three months of campaigning produced the first African-American president in history, and potentially altered the electoral landscape for decades to come. President-elect Barack Obama prevailed in an Electoral College landslide, 365-173, capturing all of the swing states but one (Missouri), and turning a handful of traditional red states (Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina) blue. His popular vote margin was smaller (6.3%), yet convincing, and he assumes office on January 20, 2009, with solid Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. For all intents and purposes, Obama can claim a mandate for change.

Obama's victory cast a wide net across most demographic groups, and even in those he lost, he made up ground when compared to the 2004 Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry. He bested Senator John McCain among women by 13%, and lost the male vote by a mere 1%. Younger voters flocked to Obama in droves, as he prevailed by 34% among those 18-29, and by 6% in the 30-44 year age bracket. The candidates split the 45-59 cohort, and McCain won the votes of those over 60 by 4%. Racial breakdowns are even more dramatic, as Obama won the African-American vote by 91%, the Latino vote by 36%, and the Asian-American vote by 27%. McCain won the white vote by 14%, but this represented only 74% of the electorate, the smallest share in history.

Obama beat McCain in both cites and suburbs, with the Arizona senator winning only small towns and rural areas. As expected, liberals and conservatives flocked to their respective candidates in crooked numbers, but moderates and independents tracked to Obama by 21% and 8% margins. Jewish and Catholic voters sided with Obama, and Protestants with McCain. The so-called "God gap" resurfaced as those who attend church once or more per week sided with McCain by 12%.

From a regional perspective, Obama claimed the Northeast, the Midwest (with the exception of Missouri), and the West Coast, making heavy inroads in the Mountain West. McCain held the South and the Great Plains. Some Republicans fear that this election represents a realignment, with the GOP gradually becoming more of a regional, rural party. Such declarations are premature at this juncture given the perfect storm from which Obama was able to operate. The economy is in shambles, the nation is fighting two unpopular wars, and the incumbent president is the most unpopular since such polls have been conducted.

Credit must also be bestowed upon the campaign that Obama orchestrated. The Illinois senator drew young people into the political process like never before and accomplished what many African-Americans only envisioned in dreams. He articulated a message of change that resonated with the populace, and used the Internet to mobilize supporters and serve as the locus for unprecedented sums of campaign cash that he employed to finance a devastating commercial campaign and get-out-the-vote operations from one coast to the other.

President-elect Obama now must face challenges arguably steeper than at any juncture since the Great Depression. He will oversee the $700 billion financial rescue package passed by Congress this fall and also initiate a second stimulus package. Health care reform is also on the immediate horizon, along with calls for the closure of the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. He has promised to end the war in Iraq and redeploy these troops to Afghanistan. At the same time, he must manipulate the levers of diplomacy to address nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, genocide in Darfur, and a civil war raging in the Congo.

As Americans, we wish President-elect Obama well, for regardless of our party stripes, we cannot afford for him to fail. The peaceful transition between a Republican to a Democratic presidential administration is a sign that our system of democracy works. Soon enough, partisans will gear up for the midterm elections in 2010, and before long, candidates will trek once more to Iowa and New Hampshire for a shot at knocking off the incumbent president in 2012. The political world moves on and so do we as citizens, but the experiences of the 2008 election are worthy of triumphant and bittersweet reflection. Simply stated, we are a better nation for the trials and tribulations of the last 23 months.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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