With November 4th drawing closer, campaign and election news has continued to intensify. In their fight for Wisconsin’s ten electoral votes, both major candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, have made frequent trips to the state. Campaign events have intensified right here on Marquette’s campus as well, with both sides reaching out to get the student body informed and involved. With the renewed voter excitement seen in the past few elections, more students than ever have an opinion about the candidates and are concerned with the election’s outcome.
For Marquette students who do not agree wholeheartedly with either candidate’s positions, there is hope. Coincidentally, this hope stems from a man who speaks of the feeling quite frequently: Barack Obama. In previous elections, support from one of the two major parties has been a requirement for a successful campaign. However, Barack Obama’s campaign took a truly revolutionary approach to campaigning, and found it successful. The risks he has taken on and the strategies he has employed have certainly helped him in his bid for presidency, but they have also opened up new corridors for future nontraditional, third-party candidates. By examining the steps Barack Obama takes in this election cycle, future third-party candidates can set themselves up for a successful campaign.
Obama’s historic campaign began with his victory in the Democratic primary. In early 2007, Hillary Clinton announced she would seek the party’s nomination. Although few then would say Clinton had the nomination in the bag, she certainly had many traditional advantages over Barack Obama. With over $100 million in funds for campaigning, Clinton was a well-known political figure and name in both the democratic party and amongst the general public, and at the start of the year, had the support of almost 100 super delegates.
Obama’s campaign centered on building a network of supporters. He realized he lacked many of the Clinton campaign’s resources and would have to build a network from the ground up. Furthermore, not only did he successfully establish this network, he did it cheaply. First, his campaign made sure Obama was freely accessible over the internet, not just via his campaign site, but by posting whole videos of his speeches or messages on sites like YouTube, which allows viewers to leave messages or respond with their own videos, enhancing interaction. Potential voters, who had for so long felt cheated by the minute sound bytes they heard on network broadcasting, could now listen to Barack Obama’s full message to their heart’s content. Obama created a transparency in his message that allowed voters to begin to trust and believe in him by using cheap methods, readily available to all future candidates.
Kathleen Scott, a junior in the College of Communications said, “I don’t think I would get this involved in another campaign. I’m drawn to politics, but I think that this is a really unique election for young voters because he [Obama] is so accessible to us.” Obama has been able to gain the trust and organize support of voters at an unprecedented speed, and their continued support stems from the feelings that they are invested in the campaign’s outcome. “I feel like his accessibility is the basis of his whole campaign; he makes everyone a part of it. Even if you do the smallest thing, making phone calls and such, it gives everyone an empowering part. And that’s one of the key things in his campaign, empowerment and empowering people to feel like they have an actual role,” Scott said.
Certainly, those deeply involved in any candidates campaign feel invested in the outcome of an election, but this sense of investment permeates almost all of Obama’s supporters. This sense of owernship stems from Obama’s fundamental message to voters. His message is not laced with the traditional promises of what Barack Obama is going to do for America. Rather is it full of proclamations about what Americans are going to do for America. His campaign promise is not “Yes, I Barack Obama, Can”, it is “Yes We Can.” Says Elizabeth Bailey, a junior in the College of Health Sciences and Obama volunteer, “The campaign officers are big on the volunteers owning the campaign.”
Obama’s supporters are so deeply involved in his campaign that any attack on Obama seems more of an attack on the whole campaign, on each of it’s collective members. Thus the criticism is distinctly personal, and Obama supporters react accordingly. In both the democratic primary and the general election, this sense of ownership has proven extremely beneficial, allowing him to deflect criticisms which might have otherwise brought down his entire campaign.
Obama has shown future candidates exactly how to overcome all of the so-called advantages that the two major parties bestow on their nominees. In the upcoming elections, candidates able to recognize and employ Obama’s strategies on their own behalf might not need the support of either major party. Marquette students currently disenchanted by both major-party candidates may find themselves with significantly more options in future elections.