Campaigning Explained

Scholars Dissect Strategies Used to Win White House

Posted May 22, 2009 at 1:48pm

Most campaigns are quickly forgotten, according to Larry Sabato, the oft-quoted director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. The 2008 presidential election, however, was different.

“Before it’s over, there will be 1,000 books on the 2008 election,— he said in a phone interview last week. “People will be writing about this 200 to 300 years from now.—

The editor and co-writer of the new textbook, “The Year of Obama: How Barack Obama Won the White House,— Sabato was quick to point out that this book provides a uniquely contemporary account. With a group of political science experts, Sabato has published a new book on the most recent national elections every two years since 1996.

Sabato said the new edition is a far cry from the first that he oversaw on the race between President Bill Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), a race that he called “incredibly dull.— It’s more interesting, even, than the tight 2000 race between Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) and Vice President Al Gore (D), he said.

“Something this significant doesn’t just happen,— Sabato wrote in his preface. “A combination of political, social, and demographic trends produced the election of our lifetime. Now that Barack Obama has taken the oath of office and begun his governing journey, all of us need to fully understand the election that changed the face of the nation.—

Sabato said he recruited the 10 contributors based on their specific areas of expertise and learned new things from each of them. Among the writers are veteran Republican strategist Michael Toner, head of the election law and government ethics practice at Bryan Cave Strategies, who wrote a chapter on federal election laws, and Georgetown University’s Diana Owen, who wrote a chapter on the mainstream media.

The University of Virginia professor, who has been teaching at the college level for 32 years, said it helps students to get a book that talks not just about the mechanics of how a bill becomes a law, for example, but also about what happens behind the scenes in the campaigns that they’ve witnessed.

This 300-page book uses 20-20 hindsight to break down how states and counties voted, how the president’s muscular and agile ground game put him over the top, how his first-ever refusal of public financing opened the floodgates for his fundraising and how other players — including the media and candidates in downballot races — affected the race.

Sabato, who counts 23 books among his accomplishments, said that as the spring semester at the University of Virginia wrapped up earlier this month, he had already begun thinking about topics for his next book.

He tries to publish a new book by himself every three or four years, in addition to the anthology-style volume on each election and the annual update of an American government textbook that he co-authored with Karen O’Connor.

Whatever he decides, he will have plenty of material to work with after the 2008 elections.