Just how did Barack Obama (D-IL), a rather undistinguished IL state senator, get elected to the U.S. Senate, and without doing anything noteworthy in that august body, go on to capture his party’s nomination for president before even finishing out his first term in Congress? A combination of heartlessness and happenstance – and some say, caucus fraud. 

† In 1996 Barack Obama ran unopposed in the Dem primary for the IL State Senate by challenging the signatures on the nominating petitions of all four of his rivals – including incumbent and party elder Alice Palmer – knocking them all off the ballot. As the Chicago Tribune explained: “Had Palmer survived the petition challenge, Obama would have faced the daunting task of taking on an incumbent senator.” 

† During his 2004 run for the U.S. Senate, Obama’s lucky streak started with his being able to exploit a provision of the 2002 Campaign Reform Act (AKA McCain-Feingold) that freed him from the law’s fundraising constraints. Obama’s extremely wealthy primary opponent, Blair Hull, self-financed his campaign to the tune of $28 million, triggering the “Millionaire’s Amendment” (struck down by the Supreme Court in June) so Obama’s donors were each allowed to contribute up to $12,000 to his campaign instead of being limited to $2,000. The Los Angeles Times reports: 

A review of Obama’s receipts in 2003 and 2004 shows he raised $1.7 million in donations in excess of the maximum then in effect of $2,100, or roughly 28% of the $6 million he raised for the primary. Of that, $360,000 flowed in donations of the new maximum of $12,000, and $450,000 came in donations of $10,000. … 

George Soros and at least four other members of his family each gave Obama $12,000 donations that year. Also, among those who gave $10,000 checks was a fellow with another now familiar name, Antoin ‘Tony’ Rezko.  

With the money, Obama was able to buy TV ads statewide, as well as the services of one David Axelrod as his chief strategist and media advisor – his very own Karl Rove.

Blair had a healthy lead over Obama, as he was able to boost his name recognition by blanketing the airwaves with ads. A month before the primary elections – just as Obama’s ads were starting to air – a judge unsealed the records from his 1998 divorce (his ex-wife had sought a restraining order against him and he was arrested for battery after she alleged that he threatened to kill her; no charges were filed, however). Anyway, Hull dropped out and Obama ran for the Dem nomination unopposed. 

An IL blogger who goes by the name Cao explains that Axelrod – who “railed against the politics of personal destruction” in the 1990s – had more than a little something to do with the unsealing of Hull’s divorce records and the subsequent leaks of salacious details to the media. 

Lightning struck twice when Obama’s extremely wealthy Repub opponent, Jack Ryan, was forced to drop out of the race in June after a judge unsealed the records from his 1999 divorce and child custody battle with actress Jeri Ryan, despite both parents objecting to the child custody records being made public. The records included allegations – never proven – that Jack Ryan had taken his wife to sex clubs.  

With less than three months before Election Day, Alan Keyes parachuted into IL to run in Ryan’s place. Obama beat him 70 percent to 27 percent. 

† Before Election Day 2004, while the Repubs were still in disarray, John Kerry asked Obama to give the keynote address at the party’s convention in July. Chicago Magazine reports that “Obama’s selection as keynote speaker was carefully plotted by all sides for maximum effect”: 

Obama admitted in interviews at the time that he was “totally surprised” by the speaking invitation … As he put it in his book The Audacity of Hope: “The process by which I was selected as the keynote speaker remains something of a mystery to me.” 

A closer look, however, reveals less mystery and more politics. …

It’s difficult to know what role Obama’s race played in getting the keynote slot … [A]t the time of the announcement, black leaders were criticizing Kerry for not doing enough to reach out to African American voters, whose support would be crucial to winning the presidency. 

As for the speech itself, in an article titled, “The 17 Minutes That Launched a Political Star,”The Washington Post reports:  

The first impression Obama crafted that night still forms the basis of his presidential campaign. In the most visible moment of his life to date, Obama discovered a formula for success in the public eye that he has relied on ever since. He prepared meticulously, but disguised his delivery as effortless. He told the story of his unique background, but offered few original ideas. … 

Most of the concepts could have been plucked from any standard stump speech: that every child deserves a shot at a good life; that each American is connected – and responsible – for every other; that government needs to be honest with its people, especially before going to war. One conservative pundit, analyzing Obama’s speech later that night, would sum it up as “pure puff.” 

† Halfway into his Senate term, Obama throws his hat in the ring for the presidency, along with a field of 18 other Dems that included Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), who was hiding a huge, career-killing secret: He had cheated on his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, and putatively fathered a love child with his mistress – whose income during and after her pregnancy consisted largely of payments made to her by a former finance chairman for the 2004 Edwards campaign. Elizabeth Edwards knew about the affair – he confessed after breaking it off – but did not counsel him to abandon his reckless plan to run for the White House.  

Hillary came in third in the IA caucus – she and Edwards were separated by just 0.3 percentage points (29.4 and 29.7, respectively) - and Obama gained momuntum. Until Edwards dropped out of the race, he and Hillary split the older, blue collar vote in the primaries and caucuses. If she had been able to go mano-a-mano against Obama earlier on, it is not inconceivable that she might have been the one accepting her party’s nomination.  

† Back in June, The New York Times observed that “[t]he strange ritual of the Iowa caucuses, the fight over the Michigan and Florida delegations, the battle over the superdelegates – it has been a colorful nominating season, but not the most democratic one.” That’s an understatement. 

What do you get when you combine lax caucus rules with bare-knuckle Chicago politics? Caucus fraud – which was rampant, many of the pro-Hillary groups opposing Obama’s nomination allege. A 98-page report that analyses caucuses held in 14 states, including CO, HI, IA, KS and MN, cites numerous examples of voter disenfranchisement, intimidation and fraud: 

Voter Fraud (CO): Obama team picked up the packets the night before the caucus and maintained control of them. 

Voter Intimidation (CO):  Obama surrogates took over the caucuses. 

Voter Fraud (HI): Many precincts ran out of ballots so “ballots” were created. Scraps of paper, post-it notes, and anything else voters could find was used as “ballots.” The caucuses ended up with more ballots than participants, a sure sign of voter fraud. 

Voter Fraud (IA): There are numerous reports of the Obama campaign busing Illinois residents from to Iowa to participate in the Iowa caucus. Obama campaign openly acknowledges handing out fifty-thousand fliers advising students to “go back to school” to caucus. A look at a map of the caucus results shows Obama had a distinct dominance in the Eastern part of the state. 

Voter Fraud (KS): Separate reports from different caucuses reported serious miscounts in the results. The count called out by the Precinct Captain did not match the number of participants in the room or the distribution of participants in the room. 

Voter Fraud (MN): Caucus attendees interviewed were sure the count stated did not represent the people in the room. 

Voter Disenfranchisement (MN): One woman reported waiting seven hours and still didn’t get a chance to caucus. 

Eyewitness accounts of intimidation and fraudulent vote tallies like those included in the report are brought to life by filmmaker Gigi Gaston, who made a 35-minute, documentary about caucus fraud in IN and TX.   

These groups believe that Hillary is the rightful Dem nominee and want to do away with caucuses, pointing out that one reason there is a razor-thin margin between Obama’s and McCain’s poll numbers is that eight of the caucus states are red states in which Obama cannot hope to be competitive.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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