The presidential race of 2008 was rife with drama. Would Barack Obama emerge as the first African-American president? Would Hillary Clinton emerge as the first female president? Would John McCain emerge to join the short list of legitimate war heros to occupy the White House?
But the campaign is looking much more pedestrian this time around, The Hill
reports. Even one of the main protagonists, President Obama, admits to that.
“This election will not be as sexy as the first one,” Obama told supporters at the Los Angeles home of movie producer James Lassiter last October. “Back then, it was still fresh and new. I didn’t have any gray hair. Everybody loved the ‘Hope’ posters and all that.”
But now it’s different. And some of that reflects a different country. “I think there has been a great turning inward in America,” David Yepsen, who covered many presidential campaigns during a 34-year career with The Des Moines Register, told The Hill.
“A lot of Americans are really hunkered down, concerned with keeping their jobs and paying their bills.” In 2008, “there was a more epic feel to that election,” he said.
Part of the intrigue of the Obama-Clinton contest in 2008 was the prominent role former President Bill Clinton occasionally had in her campaign. That spice is missing in this contest.
On the Republican side, you had the McCain campaign’s early implosion and then later rebound, the fiery personality of McCain himself, and the burst of energy provided by his vice presidential selection, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“This campaign is going to feel much more like a slog rather than the rollercoaster of 2008,” veteran Democratic strategist and movie writer Chris Lehane told The Hill.
“You’ve had some interesting characters who had walk-on cameos,” he said, mentioning Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. “But they haven’t had the chance to sustain themselves. The interesting characters weren’t the lead characters, and if you don’t have a compelling lead character you don’t have anything.”
Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, sees the Republican primary campaign so far as more reality television than Shakespearean theater.
“This GOP season has been a comedy, not a drama,” he told The Hill. “[It] has had a cast of characters that’s given ‘Two and a Half Men’ a run for its money.”
As for Obama, he enters the 2012 campaign with a much-diminished aura. At his last rally before Election Day 2008, he told supporters, “Your voice can change the world tomorrow.” Now Obama would give anything for a voice that could just change his dismal poll ratings tomorrow.
Obama’s 2008 campaign workers aren’t so passionate about their man this time around. “2008 was exciting because of the historic nature of the race, but also because Americans were incredibly anxious for change,” one of the 2008 staffers, who now works in the White House, told The Hill. This campaign “lacks ... a candidate who has inspired voters enough that they take action on their own to get him elected and bring about that change,” the staffer said.
Even observers overseas see a deflation of Obama. “There is an air of disappointment in Europe about him,” Denis Staunton, deputy editor of the Irish Times who covered the 2008 campaign, told The Hill. “Although he is seen as being better than his predecessor, he has not really been a transformative president.”
Jonathan Freedland, a columnist with The Guardian, told The Hill that a contest between Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won’t draw much interest in Europe.
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