With the results of the 2016 Iowa Caucus rushing upon us in just a few hours, this is truly the beginning of the countdown to the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency, which can be argued to have begun on this day eight years ago.
So in celebration of that watershed moment, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.
Eight years ago, on a cold January night, upstart charismatic Barak Obama upset the presumed—and nearly annointed—Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in Iowa. Up until that moment, Obama’s chances and legitimacy had been in constant question.
After all, he was young. And new. He had barely served three years of his first term as a US Senator. And while he delivered a rousing and inspiring keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he was largely unknown and untested.
Not to mention he was black. And only the fifth African American US Senator in history.
Whether or not a black man can win Iowa, go on to win the nomination, and then win the presidency, was a quiet doubt, a tangible hope, in 2008.
Sure, people who heard him speak liked him and his cadence; sure, they liked his hope and aspirations, but he was only 46 years old and did not have much national experience.
Many hoped he could win in Iowa. Many were starving for the change he proffered due to eight insufferable years of George W. Bush, an outgoing—but still sitting—president so disdained by his opponents, and more importantly, so utterly unpopular with his own party that it didn’t even invite him to speak live at its nominating convention.
But Clinton was the known quantity. And she had the other Clinton…Bill, on her side. The entire nomination looked like a sure thing for Clinton.
At the end of that January night, Obama emerged the winner of the caucus. It shocked the Clinton campaign for sure, but also pleasantly stunned many Democrats. That night, Obama won 37.6% of the votes cast, a whopping 8% more than the second place candidate…
No! Second place actually went to John Edwards that night, with 29.7%.
Clinton, in what can be characterized as a crushing defeat that night due to her status, money, and name recognition, took a big stumble in Iowa. The third place showing revealed some major dents in her presumptive armor, even though she came in just a hair behind Edwards with 29.5%.
A jubilant Obama took to the lectern and thanked his supporters for setting, what I’m certain he hoped would be, the example for the rest of the nation. As he said in his own victory speech that night, “thank you, thank you Iowa. They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose. But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do. You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days. You have done what America can do in this new year, 2008…you came together as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to stand up to say, we are one nation, one people, and our time for change has come.”
The time for change had indeed come that night. Iowa 2008 was the launch. It legitimized Obama. And the rest is living, breathing history.