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SANTA FE — If you would like to know the inside story of the presidential campaign that put Barack Obama in the White House, “Game Change” has all the details.
Written by two of the country’s leading political reporters, John Heilemann of New York magazine and Mark Halperin of Time magazine, the book provides the scoop on what had to be the race of a lifetime.
The book came out in January so you may already have read it. I didn’t have time until a recent vacation. The book’s detractors say it’s just a rehash of information everybody already knew but as someone who followed network and cable news throughout the election, I found many surprises in every chapter.
The authors conducted hundreds of interviews with the people who lived the story. They followed the campaigns of those who, in their judgment, had a reasonable chance of winning.
Featured are Barack and Michelle Obama, Hillary and Bill Clinton, John and Cindy McCain and John and Elizabeth Edwards. Yes, the spouses came in for much comment.
Also included were chapters on Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani. Gov. Bill Richardson came in for some mention but mostly in terms of his surprise endorsement of Obama rather than Clinton.
A warning for those who can’t stand to hear anything bad about their favorite candidate in that race: don’t pick up the book. Although the authors cover the candidates’ strong points, all images come out tarnished.
What you see is not what you heard in public. This is a picture of all the candidates and spouses as real people with all their human frailties.
Many reviews of the book call it gossipy. That is true but the authors claim they tried to tell the stories as fairly and empathetically as possible, using quotes wherever they could.
Many of the sources were staff members or consultants for the various campaigns. In many cases, they provided e-mails, memos, contemporaneous notes, recordings, schedules and other forms of documentation.
Most of the interviews were conducted in the months following the election when former staff and consultants were willing to reveal information they never would have during the campaign. The interviews were conducted on a “deep background” basis, meaning the sources would not be identified.
It has now been three months since the release of the book and there doesn’t seem to have been any clamor from the people discussed. No one has threatened to sue. So the unnamed sources proved to be trustworthy.
No doubt all the candidates and spouses would wish to not see some of their characterizations in print but none of them have publicly complained.
As mentioned previously, uncomplimentary reviews of the book do not contend that the characterizations were untrue but that it was information they already knew and that the mainstream media should have dug out at the time. Personally, I can’t imagine how that could have happened.
This was a campaign for the ages, with an amazing number of game changes. It was the first presidential victory for a black candidate and a very inexperienced candidate at that. Obama bet everything on the first primary in Iowa, and won.
Rudy Giuliani bet everything on the Florida primary weeks later, and lost, ending his campaign on the spot. John McCain’s campaign lost all momentum in the summer of 2007. A year later, he was the surprise victor.
We saw the first serious challenge by a woman. For several years, Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination.
“Game Change” tells us how much her husband had to do with her loss. In a way, Bill Clinton was the main character in the book, from the time he caused the U.S. Senate leadership to quietly encourage Sen. Obama to run because they were afraid of what Bill would do to Hillary’s chances to the time Obama convinced Hillary to join his administration despite knowing Bill could eventually become a problem.
E-mail Jay Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.