The 2008 campaign's big what ifs

Advisors to the major party nominees ponder what would have happened if John McCain brought up Jeremiah Wright or the Florida Democratic primary had counted.


Alex Koppelman
December 12, 2008 10:39PM (UTC)

There are a lot of "what ifs" remaining from the presidential election. For two of the defeated camps, perhaps the biggest questions center around the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor, and the Florida Democratic primary. Both were addressed by top campaign staff in a forum at Harvard University on Thursday, and partisans of the candidates who got closest to beating Obama probably won't be happy to hear the answers.

During the general election, Republicans were clamoring for John McCain to use Wright as a cudgel against Obama, but he consistently refused to do so. His top pollster, Bill McInturff, backed that decision Thursday. "John [barred Wright attacks] for instinctively all the right reasons," McInturff said, according to Politico's Ben Smith. "[A]nybody who believed that his issue would have affected the groups we were losing by [large] margins had never talked to anybody in any of those subgroups about how they felt about those issues."

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McInturff also said that if Wright-based attacks had led to a victory, it would have been a Pyrrhic one. "I said 'Look, if we do win we’ll win with about 273 electoral votes and we’ll lose the popular vote by 3 million,'" he recalled. "If [McCain] had used that issue that way, you’d already be delegitimized as a president. You couldn’t function as government."

On the other hand, David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, said that if Florida hadn't been penalized for holding its primary too early and the contest had been counted, the Democratic race could have turned out much differently. "In fact, we might not have been the nominee," he said. According to the New York Times, Plouffe was surprised that Hillary Clinton agreed not to campaign in the state, which spared Obama from having to spend valuable resources there, and also meant that he could keep the momentum going after his win in South Carolina.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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