50 Days Left: Yemen, Lehman, Libya: How a Lucky Barack Obama Wins

50 Days Left: Yemen, Lehman, Libya: How a Lucky Barack Obama Wins


Political analysts love to find ‘critical moments’ in political campaigns where ‘everything changed.’ In 1992, it was when George H.W. Bush looked at his watch during a town hall debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, subsequently proving that he didn’t care about regular people. In 2004, it was when the Swift Boat Veterans hit John Kerry putting him down for the count. It’s simple and sexy to put elections down to one event or a couple of days, but in the case of Barack Obama this is probably true. In 2008, he actually won the presidential election on September 15th, NOT November 7th, and in 2012 it looks like he’s done it again, winning an election 6 weeks early because of critical events that just happen to pop up in his favor.

If you jump into the way-back machine in 2008 the weeks heading into the middle of September were not all that good for Senator Obama. He hadn’t made any particularly poor mistakes per se, but America was still in love with Sarah Palin, the GOP convention had gone over relatively well and the McCain/Palin ticket was pretty much in the lead throughout the month of September in 5 consecutive Gallup Polls.

Gallup Presidential Election Polls September 2008

McCain Obama
Sept 13th – 15th 47 46
Sept 8th – 10th 48 44
Sept 5th – 7th 49 44

And then something crazy happened. Four years ago on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers, the huge investment bank, filed for bankruptcy, and the entire economy collapsed in what will probably got down as one of the worst Mondays ever. After that, the whole narrative of the election changed. People started worrying about competence instead of silly social issues and “Mavericks” v.s. “Experience.” McCain then made the boneheaded move to ‘suspend’ his campaign to go back to Washington and solve this financial crisis and the chubby lady started to warm up her vocal chords. Within a week, the campaign had moved from a dead heat to Obama leading anywhere from 5 to 9 points in most national polls, and he and Uncle Joe never looked back. The whole election changed because of one week where a bunch of rich old white men blew millions of dollars like Tyrone Biggins with a reparations check – and it looks like it’s about to happen again.

The Romney/Ryan ticket has never had the pizzazz of the McCain/Palin ticket, but they were hanging tough with Obama/Biden on the strength of anger over the lousy economy and angry Tea Partiers who still can’t believe there’s a black family living in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And here we are four years to the week, on the anniversary of the Lehman Brother’s bankruptcy no less, and the same phenomenon is about to happen. President Barack Obama was already coming off of a Democratic convention bounce of 3 to 5 points and then a foreign policy crisis hits that seems to have blown the race wide open. The attack on the Libyan embassy, the death of American citizens and subsequent protests in Yemen, Australia and other places have only shifted this race to the one area where Obama has a definitive advantage: foreign policy.

Even more damning for Mitt is that he placed his very expensively soled foot in his mouth earlier this week by criticizing the Obama administration about the Libyan attacks before he got his facts straight, further reminding voters that his greatest foreign policy experience was a two year mission stint in France (which he went on to avoid going to Vietnam). In one week, Obama has jumped out to a 5 point lead on Romney and more importantly the president is polling at over 50% in places like Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

I’m not saying Obama is the luckiest politician in American presidential history, but he might be close. Should he win his second election, we’ll look back on the week of September 15, 2012 the same way that we look back on September 15, 2008. The point where the whole election was pretty much over, and all that was left was a few more speeches and debates that weren’t about to change anyone’s mind.