A barrage of irrepressible forces propelled Democrat Barack Obama’s historic presidential victory over Republican John McCain, according to Craig Peterson, who cut his "political teeth" in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign and has served as a political advisor for many conservative campaigns over the years.
The stupid economy
"McCain certainly did not have much of a vision," Peterson said. "I still don’t know what his vision was. I know what Obama’s was."
George W. Bush
The Iraq War, the response to Hurricane Katrina and the economic meltdown during the Bush administration gave McCain some heavy baggage. "He (McCain) was saddled with being pigeonholed as part of the Bush administration. I would say it’s political realignment. It’s just a fact of life," Peterson said.
McCain’s modus operandi was the town hall meeting. Near the end, at an event in Waukesha, the television cameras showed the faces of angry conservatives in the front rows of his town hall meetings, many shouting. McCain quickly slid in the polls, Peterson noted.
Depending upon the camera view, McCain appeared to be alternately mad or sad during the debates, Peterson said. "John McCain hasn’t always looked comfortable in his own suit," Peterson said. Nasty robocalls only reinforced the image. Obama was cool, deliberate and steady.
Generation & race
"Oh, clearly. McCain kind of represented the last great generation. And now you have the 20-somethings who have now been empowered and the 30-somethings who are scared to death about what happened in the last eight years. Then you have people in their 40s and 50s who have had their life savings cut in half," Peterson said. In the end, Obama carried White, Black and Latino voters.
Two words: Sarah Palin
"There is a Tina Fey factor here. In a month, she was able to make Palin into a cartoon character. When I think of Palin now, I immediate think of ‘Saturday Night Live,’" Peterson said. "I blame the McCain people for not vetting her enough."
Obama’s unprecedented cash flow helped to create a monumental ground game with offices in all 50 states. "Because of his rock star image and his ability to raise more money than any candidate has, it wasn’t a fair fight," Peterson said.
Like Ronald Reagan, Obama appears to the right man for the right time. "With every issue, you have to have a villain. He (McCain) was not able to position Obama as a villain. The guy (Obama) is just too likable. The guy looks good. He wears the suit well. He has the charisma. And he has a very attractive family. I think the public has the impression it will be Camelot again, with kids running around the White House," Peterson said. "Ronald Reagan had this star quality that Obama has. People would wait for hours to shake his hand. Like Obama, Reagan had a way with words. There’s something about a tall, very attractive man walking into the room."
Peterson is president Buffalo Water Beer Company, a serial entrepreneur and chief executive officer of Zigman Joseph Stephenson. He has been a political consultant for many conservative candidates, including George H.W. Bush.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.