- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

Political experts and pundits will have much to say as they slice and dice why Sen. Barack Obama won but his decisive victory can be summed up in two words: “history” and “Bush.”

From the outset, one of the keys to Mr. Obama’s success was building an unprecedented ground game manned by a multitude of idealistic, young voters, blacks and others who were inspired to make history by electing the nation’s first president of African-American descent. Never underestimate the dedication and passion of volunteers and contributors who believe they are in the process of making history - it can be an incredibly powerful motivation.

With this enormously inspired and financially committed army of workers, Mr. Obama was able to upset Sen. Hillary Clinton, whom most experts had early on predicted would be the Democratic nominee. To be sure, Mrs. Clinton was a formidable candidate and also enjoyed having most of the Democratic establishment and big money behind her. But her “inevitable” coronation as the Democrats’ nominee was upset by Mr. Obama’s ground game in the caucus states where his cadre of upstart novices outhustled Hillary’s power structure pals.

Following his nomination, Mr. Obama’s ranks continued to swell with even more volunteers and donors; and as much as they tried, Mr. McCain’s campaign and the Republican Party could never catch up. Mr. Obama also wisely emulated the GOP’s success in 1984 and 2004 by making voter registration a cornerstone of his campaign, thus bringing millions of new, first-time voters into the process. In many states, Mr. Obama’s forces outregistered Republicans by margins of three to one, or more.

The turnout by African-American voters was likewise historic. Long taken for granted by their fellow Democrats, there is no question that they finally saw a chance to not only elect one of their own but to do something most never dreamed was possible in their lifetimes. Saying “I was there to help elect the first black president” will be a story they will want to share with their children and grandchildren. Try to beat that for motivation.

Mr. McCain, on the other hand, had no such groundbreaking, history-in-the-making allure. Notwithstanding his impressive biography, it’s hard to imagine that many years hence people would be sitting around the campfire boasting nostalgically about how they made “history” by elevating the nation’s “oldest” white nominee to the Oval Office.

Although he is much admired by many Republicans, Mr. McCain also had to struggle to win over conservative and evangelical activists who considered him an apostate on many of their issues and had long viewed him with deep suspicion. At the end of the day, they supported him not out of any real passion for him personally, or his polices, but because they saw him as the “lesser of two evils” - hardly a fervor-inducing way to rally the troops.

But the major problem Mr. McCain had to confront, and could never successfully overcome, was the unpopularity of his party’s incumbent president, George W. Bush. Unfairly or not, during economic crises many voters blame the party in control of the White House. In addition, Mr. McCain the “maverick” never emerged. Not only did he fail to distance himself from Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama successfully tied the president like an albatross around Mr. McCain’s neck. When running for his party’s nomination, Mr. McCain’s quote that he “voted 90 percent of the time” with Mr. Bush became the basis for perhaps Mr. Obama’s most effective and damaging campaign commercial.

Historians may one day be more generous in their judgment about President Bush’s legacy but for now, his near historic low approval ratings for a president has helped run his party, and its candidates, into a political ditch. Rather than presiding over securing a GOP governing majority for the next generation and beyond - Karl Rove’s much ballyhooed prognostication - Mr. Bush has single-handily squandered the hard-won gains made by Reagan-Gingrich Republicans over the past three decades.

Many GOP and conservative operatives may argue that Mr. McCain could have won had he campaigned more aggressively, forgone public financing or selected a more experienced running mate. But it is extremely doubtful, especially given the size of Mr. Obama’s victory, that any strategic or tactical adjustments would have made any difference. Nor would it have mattered if Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee or anyone else had been the nominee. It’s almost as if the election’s outcome was preordained. With George Bush in the White House, John McCain never had a chance.

Gary L. Jarmin is a Republican strategist and president of a government affairs consulting firm in Alexandria, Va.

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