Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination because of the roughly two million activists who supported his campaign. These were the donors, the volunteers, the caucus goers and the rally attendees who, in several key ways pushed him over the top. Here is how:
- Media: Starting early in the campaign, much of Obama's mystique was built on the huge crowds he drew at rallies. Massive groups of 3,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 people who attended his rallies back in the first half of 2007 gave him a rock start persona that no other candidate could match.
- Money: Obama's entire monetary advantage over Hillary Clinton came from small donors who gave $200 or less to his campaign. His $57M+ advantage over Clinton in this area of fundraising accounts for all of Obama's financial advantage during the nomination campaign. Outside of the $200 or smaller donors, Clinton's $10M transfer from her Senate campaign and $11.4M loan from personal funds draw her even with Obama in overall fundraising. As such, the extra money Obama had for paid media and staff came entirely from his small donor corps.
- Iowa: Obama had to win Iowa in order to have any chance at the nomination. His Iowa victory was the legitimizing force that helped push the vast majority of African-Americans into his camp. Also, his victory knocked out all other contenders, setting up a one on one campaign against Clinton. The Iowa caucuses, like all caucuses, are fundamentally an exertion of raw activist power, and Obama's victory among Democratic Iowa activists was one of the main keys to his victory.
- Caucuses: As I already noted, caucuses are a hothouse for activists. With odd and narrow voting windows, with a public vote, and with extremely low turnout, a candidate can only win caucuses if s/he commands the support of the most dedicated Democrats and Democratic leaners. Without his consistent, dominating victories in caucuses, Obama would not have led in pledged delegates. Without his pledged delegate lead, superdelegates would not have flocked to Obama. And without a lead in both pledged delegates and superdelegates, Barack Obama would not be the nominee tonight. Caucuses, and the dedicated activists who attend them, put him over the top.
So, because of the advantages that his activist corps gave him in terms of media, money, Iowa and caucus delegates, tonight Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. This statement is not meant to imply that other candidates lacked activist support, only that Obama had significantly more support from Democratic and progressive activists than any other candidate. He achieved this support because of his personal magnetism, excellent organizing within his campaign and, just as importantly as anything else, because of his early opposition to the war in Iraq. Because Barack Obama opposed the Iraq war before it began, he had the inside track to Democratic and progressive activist support. No other top tier candidate could stake the same claim to appropriate judgment on the defining issue of this decade.
Without his opposition to the Iraq war, Obama doesn't dominate among activists to nearly the same extent. And without his activist advantage, he doesn't win the nomination. The DFH's delivered Obama the nomination. Hopefully, he will campaign in the general election, and eventually govern, in a manner that recognizes and appreciates this fact. And, if not, hopefully those same activists will hold him accountable.