The Choice 2008


The Choice 2008

Michael Kirk
Jim Gilmore
Paul Stekler

Jim Gilmore

Michael Kirk &
Paul Stekler

Michael Kirk


DAN BALZ, The Washington Post: Two candidates emerged from this crucible.

CHARLIE COOK, The Cook Political Report: Just two totally implausible people.

MARK HALPERIN, TIME Magazine: It is one of the great political stories that anyone has ever seen.

MARK McKINNON, Media Adviser, McCain Campaign, 2007-'08: -because it's so clear and it's so different. And two great men.

ROBERT TIMBERG, Author, John McCain: An American Odyssey: Well, I don't think it gets much more interesting than this.

JOHN WEAVER, McCain Chief Political Adviser,1997-'07: We often joke that if there's a saloon fight going on, he's going in there and pick up a chair.

DAVID KEENE, Chairman, American Conservative Union: Here's a guy who's going to do whatever he thinks ought to be done, and we don't know what that's going to be.

VICTORIA CLARKE, McCain Press Secretary, 1983-'89: If there's one SOB who can pull this out, it's John McCain. He's at his best when the odds are seemingly insurmountable.

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), House Speaker, 1995-'99: McCain resurrected himself by hard work and courage at a time when everybody thought he was gone. Obama turned out to be very disciplined and designed a strategy which had a little bit of Barry Goldwater and a little bit of John F. Kennedy.

Prof. ROGER WILKINS, George Mason University: He's smart enough to look into the future and gutsy enough to take it on.

CHARLIE COOK: He's very idealistic, very romantic, very symbolic and very much charisma-driven.

RYAN LIZZA, The New Yorker: Obama has got inner toughness, the velvet glove around the steel fist.

TONI PRECKWINKLE, Chicago Alderman: Somebody who started out as a state senator is now the Democratic nominee. That's a pretty spectacular rise in 12 years.

MATT BAI, The New York Times Magazine: The choice between these two guys is to a large extent a choice between who can make sense of the world and who represents actual progress.

ANNOUNCER: The Choice 2008.

NEWSCASTER: The delegates are trickling into Boston-

NEWSCASTER: Thirty-five thousand people are expected to descend on Boston-

NEWSCASTER: The convention is being held in the heart of the city-

NARRATOR: In July 2004, as the Democrats were nominating John Kerry, a young newcomer was about to steal the show.

Sen. DICK DURBIN (R), Illinois: -the next senator from the state of Illinois, Barack Obama!

JEFF ZELENY, The New York Times: The buzz was there was this up-and-coming young state senator from Illinois. Most people probably couldn't pronounce his name.

NARRATOR: Barack Obama's moment had begun one month earlier with a telephone call.

DAVID AXELROD, Chief Strategist, Obama Campaign: We were riding around in down-state Illinois, and the phone rang. And it was the campaign manager for John Kerry.

LIZA MUNDY, The Washington Post: They needed somebody who was charismatic and optimistic and could electrify a crowd.

DAVID AXELROD: When he hung up the phone, he was excited and he said, "I know exactly what I want to say." He said, "I really want to talk about my story as part of the larger American story."

BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois Senate Candidate: [July 27, 2004] Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya.

LIZA MUNDY: He really emerged from very, I think, unlikely circumstances. His mother was a young woman who had been raised in the Midwest.

BARACK OBAMA: She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas.

JANNY SCOTT, The New York Times: She met in a Russian class a student from Africa during her freshman year named Barack Obama.

BARACK OBAMA: My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation.

JANNY SCOTT: They very quickly got married, and Senator Obama was born in August of that year.

NARRATOR: In his first book, Obama writes about his parents' struggle.

BARACK OBAMA: ["Dreams From My Father," audiobook] The year that my parents were married, miscegenation still described a felony in over half the states of the union. In many parts of the South, my father could have been strung up from a tree for merely looking at my mother the wrong way.

[2004 Democratic convention address] I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.

NARRATOR: Obama used the facts of his own life to define his interpretation of American politics and to challenge in important ways the ideas of the past.

GARY HART (D-CO), Presidential Candidate, 1984: I remember going across the convention hall while he was speaking. During a convention, there's chaos and the audience is restless and people are talking all the time, and so virtually all of the standard speeches are drowned out. But his presence and his delivery caused people to quiet down, listen, and then began to respond to him.

BARACK OBAMA: -a belief that we're all connected as one people. If there's a child on the South Side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

DAVID AXELROD: I remember very distinctly standing in the hall, watching him give the speech and watching the reaction to it. And all around were people with tears in their eyes. And I realized at that moment that his life would never be the same.

BARACK OBAMA: It is that fundamental belief - I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper - that makes this country work.

NARRATOR: Backstage, his wife, Michelle, offered her advice.

DAVID MENDELL, Author, Obama: From Promise to Power: Michelle didn't want him to go out there and come across as too arrogant. She gave this little "Don't screw it up, buddy" line to him, which probably calmed his nerves a little bit.

BARACK OBAMA: I say to them tonight there is not a liberal America and a conservative America, there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America, a Latino America, an Asian America, there's the United States of America!

SALIM MUWAKKIL, Columnist, Chicago Tribune: I knew much of it was rhetorical, and when he said, "There's no white America, there's no black America," I kind of winced a little bit because I know that there is certainly a black America. But I understood where he was coming from.

BARACK OBAMA: Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty - the audacity of hope!

DAVID MENDELL: Michelle sees this happening and she has tears streaming down her cheeks. I'm sitting in the crowd and a woman next to me is crying, bawling her eyes out, and she just keeps screaming, "This is history. This is history."

BARACK OBAMA: We are one people, all of us, pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America!

RON BROWNSTEIN, The National Journal: And Obama comes along with a message that says, "We're going to look beyond red and blue. I am going to transcend many of the traditional divisions, not only ideological and partisan, but also racial." And he embodies his message in a unique way, and I think that, to me, is the core of his political strength.

BARACK OBAMA: Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you!

NEWSCASTER: This guy's going places.

NEWSCASTER: This is like watching Tiger Woods.

NEWSCASTER: It's amazing he's still a state senator in Illinois. I mean-

[ Analysis of the speech]

NARRATOR: Immediately, the pundits and journalists began casting Obama in a new light.

NEWSCASTER: - unite us and divide us. Tonight we heard from a transcender-

NEWSCASTER: He lit it up.

NEWSCASTER: People talk about him quite openly as the first black president of the United States.

WILL BURNS, Dpty. Campaign Manager, Obama 2000: The speech he gave in 2004 was the stump speech that he gave- I mean, I was literally watching it on television, and like, reciting it. And I was calling a friend of mine and both of us were cracking up that this was the same speech that he used to give to crowds of, like, 10 people or in some church on the South Side where, you know, no one knew how to pronounce his name, and you know, they were just meeting him for the first time, and this was the speech he would give.

NEWSCASTER: In New York City today, Republican delegates are enjoying a sunny afternoon touring the town-

NARRATOR: Four weeks later, in August of 2004, the Republicans held their own convention.

NEWSCASTER: - this week brings their national convention-

NARRATOR: It would be George W. Bush's party, but one guest wasn't entirely welcome.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my friend, a true American hero, Senator John McCain!

NARRATOR: Arizona senator John McCain had been wrangling with the Bush administration for nearly four years.

JOHN WEAVER, McCain Chief Political Adviser, 1997-'07: We're in very icy relations with the White House. And when I say "icy," that's not really giving it justice. I mean, Siberia doesn't have that much ice.

NARRATOR: These Republicans remembered the story. Back in 2000, McCain had nurtured the image of a maverick, surprisingly and dramatically beating George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary. He'd run an insurgent's campaign out of this bus. He had put together a coalition of moderates and independents and won.

NEWSCASTER: - victory over the favorite son-

NEWSCASTER: - an extraordinary political day as the voters of New Hampshire have spoken-

NEWSCASTER: The McCain win was so overwhelming-

MARK McKINNON, Media Adviser, Bush 2000: We got our ass kicked. We got humbled. We got put on our knees in the snows, the cold snows of New Hampshire.

JOE ALLBAUGH, Campaign Manager, Bush 2000: I knew we were going to lose, I just didn't know it was by 19 points, thank you very much.

MARK SALTER, McCain Senior Adviser: I think he loved it. I think he loved the experience of New Hampshire. The primary night itself, he smiled, he was pleased, he was happy. I could detect no great joy. That's a fascinating quality in a personality.

He always calls it "steady strain." It's a nautical term, where you throw a line to another ship, you don't want any slack in the line. You want to keep the strain on it steady. And he always tells us that, you know, "steady strain." And that's moments when we're erupting in happiness, you know, or joy, or moments when, you know, we'd just gotten our asses kicked and aren't feeling too good.

NARRATOR: Two weeks later, in South Carolina, "steady strain" would be sorely tested. Karl Rove and the Bush insiders were ready to strike back.

MARK McKINNON: Things happened in South Carolina that were pretty ugly. South Carolina's got a long tradition of being very tough, and it lived up to its tradition. And it was very, very tough.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM: It was a series of attacks- personal life distorted, political record distorted. It's a real smear campaign, but it hurt.

ELISABETH BUMILLER, The New York Times: There were rumors all over the state that McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock and that his wife, Cindy, was a drug addict.

ORSON SWINDLE, McCain Adviser: It's just despicable. What they did was despicable. I think they were desperate. And if you think about it, had Bush lost South Carolina, it was over for George Bush.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ) Presidential Candidate: And it's wrong. And it's wrong. My friends, this is what's going on around here.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times: Senator McCain was so angry at one point that he said that George Bush was a combination of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion- in other words, a man with no brain, no heart and no courage. And that's what he said in public. Imagine what he said in private. It was something I think that colored his view of President Bush for a long time to come.

NARRATOR: McCain lost his temper, and he lost the primary by 12 points. He quit the race.

MARK HALPERIN: He assumed he'd never get a chance to run for president again, that his time was done.

NARRATOR: Still, McCain was a political player. Two months later, an unhappy alliance.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), Presidential Candidate: [May 9, 2000] Looks like we drew a crowd. John McCain and I just had a very good meeting.

ANNE KORNBLUT, The Washington Post: McCain was forced to really bite his tongue in 2000 after losing and to go play nice with Bush.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: - walk into a room with over a hundred people to hear how the meeting went-

ANNE KORNBLUT: It just- you could just see how much he didn't like it.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I have said from the very beginning that I will support the nominee of the party. I look forward to enthusiastically campaigning for Governor Bush for the next six months between now and November.

DAN BALZ, The Washington Post: You go back to the day he endorsed Bush for president in 2000, and it- we had to force the words "I endorse him" out of him.

REPORTER: Senator, why do you have difficulty using the word "endorsement" when you talk about your support for Governor Bush?

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I endorse Governor Bush. [laughter] I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. [laughter]

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: By the way, I enthusiastically accept!

DAN BALZ: It was just- it was one of the most awkward endorsement moments that I had ever seen as a political reporter. That carried through. I mean, he grudgingly helped out in 2000 in that campaign, but really not a lot.

NARRATOR: In the fall of 2000, George Bush would win the presidency. A deeply angry John McCain decided to focus on his own agenda.

RON BROWNSTEIN, The National Journal: McCain came out of the 2000 campaign drawn to the idea that he had become a brand, he represented something to the American public of independence, pragmatism, bipartisanship. And he moved very aggressively to maximize the leverage of that brand legislatively.

NARRATOR: He fought the administration's tax cuts. He pushed campaign finance reform, held hearings on climate change, building his reputation as a maverick.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: It had been bad for him in the Republican caucus. He had been booed at one point when he walked in. He really felt like these are not the guys he was comfortable with. They didn't have that much in common. He was really a bitter man in those days.

TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), Sen. Majority Leader, 2001-'03: He was angry for the way he was treated. He was angry because his staff were not asked to be part of the new administration. He was angry because he thought George Bush was playing to the most conservative elements within his own party. And for all those reasons, he felt alienated.

NARRATOR: Sources say one way McCain expressed his anger was to threaten to change parties. He denies it, but here's the way others tell it. It started with his top aide, John Weaver.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: Well, what I've heard, I've heard from Tom Downey, a former Democratic congressman, was having lunch with John Weaver. Weaver said to him, "Why has nobody ever approached John McCain about leaving the party?" And Downey was flabbergasted. He said, "If John McCain wants a call from somebody in the Democratic Party, let me know and I will have anybody in the party call him immediately."

NARRATOR: In 2001, the Democrats had one less vote than the Republicans in the Senate. They were hunting for Republicans who might switch sides.

JOHN WEAVER, McCain Chief Political Adviser, 1997-'07: So Senator McCain received a phone call one day from Senator Kennedy, who is a very good friend of his. He asked him to come to a meeting in his office, and they made the full court press, asking him to switch sides of the aisle.

TOM DASCHLE: There was a time when we came very close to convincing him to join our caucus. He certainly left us with the impression that that possibility was a very real one. I don't think we would have spent the time and made the effort we did had it not been perceived to be real and sincere and genuine.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: He had long, long conversations with Ted Kennedy, with John Edwards, with Tom Daschle, with Chris Dodd.

NARRATOR: The discussions lasted for weeks. McCain finally decided not to do it.

TOM DASCHLE: This was something he considered very carefully and chose not to do for a lot of reasons.

NARRATOR: One reason- some thought McCain might be setting himself up to run again.

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), House Speaker, 1995-'99: He decided that to become the nominee, he had to make peace with the Bush wing of the party and with people who are avid Bush supporters. And he set out to do so.

NARRATOR: John Weaver made a phone call that would signal it was time to make amends.

JOHN WEAVER: I called Mark McKinnon, a friend of mine from the 1980s in Texas, who was an intimate of both the president and Karl Rove, and asked for a meeting with Karl.

MARK McKINNON, Media Adviser, Bush Reelection: I said, "Great. I'll give Karl a call." And I called Rove. Rove was surprised, but he said, you know, "I appreciate the thought, and- and I- I'd like to get together. I'd like for you to come and be a witness." And I said OK.

MATTHEW DOWD, Chief Strategist, Bush Reelection: We know that John McCain's popular, more popular than President Bush at the time, probably one of the most popular Republicans in the country at the time, and that he could give entree to voters that George Bush couldn't get.

MARK McKINNON: But Karl said there was a place right across the street from the White House, a little coffee shop, and so we all met and we sat down. And it was very heartfelt, sort of straightforward conversation. John opened it and said, you know, "Listen, I think it's time to put this behind us."

JOHN WEAVER: And at some point during the conversation, I said to Karl, "Why isn't John campaigning for the president?" And Karl said, "We didn't think he would." And I said, "Nobody has asked him." And he said they would.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times: And they walked out of that coffee shop that day determined to get through 2004 as a team, however uncomfortable it might be, however, you know, unlikely it might be, that George Bush and John McCain were going to go to November together as partners.

NARRATOR: And that's how John McCain found himself center stage at the Republican convention in 2004.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: [August 30, 2004] We need a leader with the experience to make-

NARRATOR: In front of extremely ambivalent Republicans, Mr. Outside was trying to become Mr. Inside.

RON BROWNSTEIN, Author, The Second Civil War: Appearing at the convention in such a prominent way is a complex political strategy. It's a balancing act between his identity as someone who transcends party, and also at the same time, trying to become more acceptable to the party.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Keep that faith. Keep your courage. Stick together. Stay strong. Do not yield. Do not flinch. Stand up. Stand up with our president and fight. We're Americans. We're Americans, and we'll never surrender! They will!

NARRATOR: The Republicans now knew John McCain hadn't given up on another run for the presidency.

[ McCain & the Republican Party]

NEWSCASTER: Obama is expected to be thrown into the limelight-

NEWSCASTER: He can barely show his face in public without creating some kind of sensation-

NARRATOR: January 2005. It's been five months since Barack Obama's speech at the convention in Boston. Now he's the newly elected senator from Illinois.

JANNY SCOTT, The New York Times: And he arrives in the Senate a celebrity in the way that sort of Hillary Clinton was a celebrity when she arrived.

NARRATOR: The Democrats had failed to recapture the White House or the Congress. Obama was their superstar, and to many, their future.

JEFF ZELENY, The New York Times: He was sort of a person who Democrats were placing their hopes in.

NARRATOR: The veterans knew it in their bones. They gathered around him.

TOM DASCHLE: He came to the Senate almost immediately with everyone's high expectations, with everyone's assumption that this was a man who was on a fast track.

NARRATOR: Former Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle had lost his bid for reelection. As he left, he decided to protect and nurture the party's newest asset.

TOM DASCHLE: He was looking for staff. I had what I considered to be some of the best staff on the Hill.

NARRATOR: Daschle's top aide, Peter Rouse, was so powerful, they called him the 101st senator. Rouse wanted to retire. Obama courted him.

PETE ROUSE, Chief of Staff to Sen. Obama: I may be the one person in politics who have never seen the speech at the convention. I've never seen it, never even read it, for that matter, you know, which I probably shouldn't admit to.

NARRATOR: Obama got his man. Rouse signed on.

PETE ROUSE: You could tell he had the magic. What he said to me, "I know what I'm good at. I know what I'm not good at. I can give a good speech, but I don't have any idea what it's like to get established in the Senate."

JEFF ZELENY: They wanted more than anything else to make him look like a serious senator. So from the very beginning, everything was done with that in mind.

NARRATOR: Obama and his team designed a detailed two-year plan.

DAVID MENDELL, Author, Obama: From Promise to Power: They put together a two-year plan to put him at the highest possible political peak going into the 2008 election cycle.

NARRATOR: The plan called for Obama to avoid controversial issues and slowly raise his profile.

PETE ROUSE: We took no out-of-state speaking engagements in the first nine months, didn't do any Sunday shows. He didn't want to get out there and expose himself to being attacked as somebody who was more interested in getting headlines than really doing his homework. So he had bigger plans than that, but he was very aware of the importance of being a team player and not raising people's hackles.

NARRATOR: But it was a big challenge to fit into the rigid traditions of the United States Senate.

JEFF ZELENY: It's a seniority system. He was the last person to ask a question on every committee hearing. So he would have to sit there for at least two hours before he could be heard. So there was no question that he was very much a freshman, no question at all.

BEN WALLACE-WELLS, Rolling Stone: There was a story that one of his staffers told me. He goes in with Obama to the first meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee, which is, you know, Obama's big play. And Joe Biden is chairing the meeting. And it's a confirmation hearing for Condoleezza Rice and it's kind of a historic moment. And midway through the meeting, Biden is just going on and on. And Obama scribbles- looking very serious, scribbles a little note on a piece of paper and passes it back to his aide. And the aide's very excited because this is the first communication from Senator Obama. And the note says, "Shoot. Me. Now." Shoot, period, me, period, now, period.

NARRATOR: But there's another side of Obama.

RYAN LIZZA, The New Yorker: He's someone that's long been involved in the nitty-gritty of this stuff. I don't think that's something that people always realize. I think the soaring rhetoric, the sort of icon-like image that Obama has attained in this country sometimes blinds us to the fact that he wasn't born on stage in 2004, but he had to rise through the ranks of machine politics in Chicago to get where he is. And that's made him an incredibly effective politician.

Chicago is the capital of black America. This is the city within a few miles of each other-

Minister LOUIS FARRAKHAN, Nation of Islam: I'm telling you what the facts are-

RYAN LIZZA: - Louis Farrakhan has his headquarters-

Minister LOUIS FARRAKHAN: The honorable Elijah Muhammad took sharp disagreement with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.-

RYAN LIZZA: - Jesse Jackson has his headquarters-

Rev. JESSE JACKSON, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition: Our time has come!

RYAN LIZZA: - and on the South Side, Trinity is a big church-

Rev. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, Trinity United Church of Christ: In a conversation with Christ, even the race issue gets clarified!

RYAN LIZZA: - Reverend Wright's church.

Rev. JEREMIAH WRIGHT: The culture says [unintelligible]

RYAN LIZZA: It's the city where Harold Washington was mayor-

Mayor HAROLD WASHINGTON: The whole nation is watching as Chicago has sent a powerful message-

RYAN LIZZA: - this guy who overcame great odds and lot of racism to lead this city.

Mayor HAROLD WASHINGTON: Our government will be moving forward, as well, including more kinds of people than any government in the history of Chicago.

RYAN LIZZA: It's the capital of Black America, and I think that's one of the things that drew Barack Obama to that city.

NARRATOR: In 1984, Obama was 23. He'd grown up in Hawaii and Indonesia, went to college in California and New York, and now he was determined to put roots down, to try to be part of the African-American political struggle.

BARACK OBAMA: ["Dreams From My Father," audiobook] At night, lying in bed, I would let the slogans drift away to be replaced with a series of images, romantic images of a past I had never known. They were of the Civil Rights movement mostly. They told me that I wasn't alone in my particular struggles.

NARRATOR: He would look for a job in Chicago, a meaningful job.

BARACK OBAMA: ["Dreams From My Father," audiobook] In 1983, I decided to become a community organizer. There wasn't much detail to the idea. I didn't know anyone making a living that way. When classmates in college asked me just what it was that a community organizer did, I couldn't answer them directly. Instead, I'd pronounce on the need for change. "Change won't come from the top," I would say, "change will come from a mobilized grass roots."

GERALD KELLMAN, Community Organizer: We had put an ad in a number of newspapers for a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago, and Barack sent me a resume. I'm looking for anybody who might be a good organizer but I particularly need somebody who's African-American.

RYAN LIZZA: You know, one way to put it is Barack Obama's looking for an authentic African-American experience, and Gerry Kellman, the Chicago organizer, is looking for an authentic African-American.

GERALD KELLMAN: He was a skinny young man. And in some of the communities he worked, there were a lot of single moms, single grandmothers, and they wanted to take him in and feed him and fatten him up. He was an eligible young man. They wanted to introduce him to their daughters and to their granddaughters, and he found a home and he was very comfortable here.

NARRATOR: But he wasn't always welcome.

LIZA MUNDY, The Washington Post: He had to work with a lot of different church leaders who weren't necessarily receptive to this young guy who came from the Ivy League and did not have Chicago roots.

MIKE KRUGLIK, Community Organizer: You know, Chicago's a town that says, "We don't want nobody that nobody sent." Well, Barack was somebody that nobody sent.

Mayor HAROLD WASHINGTON: Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Jews, Gentiles-

NARRATOR: Still, Obama did have a model for how to succeed in putting coalitions together, the newly elected mayor, Harold Washington.

Mayor HAROLD WASHINGTON: - have joined hands to form a new democratic coalition!

TONI PRECKWINKLE, Chicago Alderman: Harold Washington was surely a phenomenon. Harold Washington had to be mayor for all the people of Chicago. He had to be perceived as somebody who was prepared to be mayor of all of the people of Chicago and not just a mayor for the black community.

CASSANDRA BUTTS, Friend: What Washington was able to do was to put together these coalitions, African-Americans, Latinos, and progressive whites. And he was able to pull that together and beat the machine. And that kind of coalition building was incredibly influential for Barack.

NARRATOR: Obama had a small measure of success as an organizer, but he wanted more.

RYAN LIZZA: After two-and-half years, he realizes you just can't get very far at community organizing.

GERALD KELLMAN: It structurally was not going to change racial discrimination. It was not going to change poverty in the United States. There simply would not be enough power there.

MIKE KRUGLIK: At that point, he begins thinking about, "Is there some other way to do the same job that I'm trying to do," which is lift people out of poverty.

RYAN LIZZA: He decided he needed to sort of see how politics worked on a sort of higher level than what he had access to as a street organizer in Chicago. He needed to go off to law school.

NARRATOR: He took out student loans and was accepted at one of the nation's most prestigious law schools, Harvard.

Rev. JESSE JACKSON: We're all precious in God's sight. Everybody is somebody. No more racism.

BRADFORD BERENSON, Harvard Law, 1991: The political environment on the law school campus in the late '80s and early '90s was borderline toxic.

Rev. JESSE JACKSON: No more racism! No more sexism!

KENNETH MACK, Harvard Law, 1991: Harvard Law School was a very divided institution.

LIZA MUNDY: There's a lot of mutual animosity surrounding affirmative action. It's racially a very charged time.

Prof. DERRICK BELL: I want women of color in permanent positions-

CHRISTINE SPURELL, Harvard Law, 1991: People just did a lot of talking and a lot of fighting. By the end, it's like one big unhappy family.

NARRATOR: Barack Obama found himself in the midst of the protests, at one point championing the cause of a black faculty member, Professor Derrick Bell.

BARACK OBAMA: And I remember him sauntering up to the front and not giving us a lecture, but engaging us in a conversation-

KENNETH MACK: He was a very public figure on campus. Everyone knew who he was. He was a very well respected leader, probably the most well respected student on campus.

BARACK OBAMA: Simply by his good looks and easy charm-

NARRATOR: In the superheated racial disputes, Obama had become the middleman, a conciliator.

DAVID MENDELL: He's always been very adept at walking this fine line between two dramatically different worlds, whether it be black and white, liberal and conservative. He's just extremely adroit at walking that tightrope.

LIZA MUNDY: He was raised in a white family, so he learned early on, I think, to move back and forth between different communities of people.

NARRATOR: The intellectual epicenter of the ideological battles tearing the law school apart was the prestigious Harvard Law Review.

BRADFORD BERENSON: I don't remember any physical violence. I certainly remember plenty of raised voices. I've worked at the Supreme Court. I've worked at the White House. I've been in Washington now for almost 20 years, and the bitterest politics I've ever seen in terms of it getting personal and nasty was on the Harvard Law Review.

NARRATOR: Brad Berenson was a member of the conservative Federalist Society. One day, he and his associates would help run the Bush administration.

BRADFORD BERENSON: The conservatives on the Harvard Law School campus at that time were severely outnumbered.

NARRATOR: Inside that toxic environment, Obama's affinity for the Federalist students surprised his black associates.

CHRISTINE SPURELL: I don't know why at the time he was able to communicate so well with them, even spend social time with them, which was not something I would ever have done. I don't think he was agenda-driven. I think he genuinely thought some of these guys are nice, all of them are smart, some of them are funny. All of them have something to say.

NARRATOR: No African-American had ever been president of The Law Review. In his second year, Obama decided to run for it.

BRADFORD BERENSON: If being on The Law Review is a great credential and a high honor, being the president of it is the greatest credential and the greatest honor.

LIZA MUNDY: The voting for the presidency was an all-day process in which- it started out in the day with a lot of candidates, and they got basically voted off the island as the day progressed.

KENNETH MACK: One of my most poignant memories of The Law Review election process was late in the process. It's late at night. We're trying to figure out how to resolve this thing. Clearly, Barack has a lot of support, but it's not resolved yet. And a conservative editor who probably disagreed with just about everything that Barack stood for got up and said that he was firmly behind Barack because we were a divided institution, this was the best person to lead the institution and to reach out to all constituencies, even though he had his own political views and made them known.

NARRATOR: Just after midnight, he won. It was national news.

BARACK OBAMA, Pres., Harvard Law Review: Well, I'm honored, and I think people can say that my election symbolizes some progress, at least within the small confines of the legal community. I think it's real important to keep the focus on the broader world out there and see that for a lot of kids, the doors that have been opened to me aren't open to them.

NARRATOR: The African-American editors were ecstatic.

BRADFORD BERENSON: I think a lot of the minority editors on The Review expected him to use his discretion to the maximum extent possible to empower them.

CASSANDRA BUTTS, Harvard Law, 1991: There was an expectation on the part of his more progressive colleagues at The Law Review that he would side with them on issues.

BRADFORD BERENSON: Barack was reluctant to do that. It's not that he was out of sympathy with their views, but his first and foremost goal, it always seemed to me, was to put out a first-rate publication. And he was not going to let politics or ideology get in the way of doing that.

NARRATOR: Only one African-American student received a top editor's job. Federalist Society members were given three.

CHRISTINE SPURELL: The whole Federalist slate was taking over. I was kind of hoping to get a masthead position, and I did not get a masthead position. I was hurt. I think I would call it very hurt. And I told him so. I mean, certainly, he was aware of how I felt.

BRADFORD BERENSON: I think Barack took 10 times as much grief from those on the left on The Review as from those of us on the right. And the reason was, I think, there was an expectation among those editors on the left that he would affirmatively use his position to advance the cause.

NARRATOR: He would return to Chicago to write a book, to teach law and to return to the streets.

BRADFORD BERENSON: In my mind, there's no doubt he would have ended up with a Supreme Court clerkship, but he turned his back on that and saw himself running separate from the pack, even back then.

NARRATOR: It was in March of 2003 that the country went to war with Iraq.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq and to free its people and to defend the world.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times: No one was a bigger supporter of the original decision to go to war in Iraq than John McCain. He co-sponsored legislation in the Senate that gave President Bush authority to do it. He was somebody from the very beginning- even before President Bush started talking about it, he was somebody who talked about the need to take out Saddam Hussein.

NEWSCASTER: Victims of sectarian revenge killings are turning up here now every day-

NARRATOR: But when things started to go badly in Iraq, McCain broke with the administration.

NEWSCASTER: Some 60 city councilors have been killed over the past year.

MARK SALTER, Co-Author, McCain Autobiography: He went in August of '03 to Iraq and came back convinced that if a full insurgency didn't exist at the moment, it was just weeks away, asked to see Secretary Rumsfeld, privately spoke to him, "`We've got to completely change the way we're doing things." No response. No response.

VICTORIA CLARKE, Rumsfeld Press Secretary, 2001-'03: The relationship really started to get bad, and it wasn't just McCain and Rumsfeld. You could almost go through almost any office in the Pentagon, major office, and McCain and his staffers were having problems with people there.

NARRATOR: McCain remained a supporter of the war but continued to complain about the strategy. Then in 2004, a real breaking point.

NEWSCASTER: Demonstrators gathered outside Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison today-

NEWSCASTER: - shocking snapshots that embarrassed the Pentagon and enraged the Muslim world-

NARRATOR: When Congress went after the administration, John McCain led the charge. He would take on the secretary of defense.

MARK SALTER: He was incensed. He thought it was shameful.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: [May 7, 2004] I'm gravely concerned that we risk losing public support for this conflict, as Americans turned away from the Vietnam war. Now, Mr. Secretary, I'd like to know, what were the instructions to the guards?

DONALD RUMSFELD, Secretary of Defense: That is what the investigation that I've indicated has been undertaken is determining.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Mr. Secretary, that's a very simple, straightforward question.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well- well, the- as chief of staff the Army-

NARRATOR: McCain would ultimately offer legislation to change American policy about torture. Torture, of course, had a special meaning to McCain.

INTERVIEWER: Want some light?

NARRATOR: IN 1967, McCain was 31, a prisoner in North Vietnam.

INTERVIEWER: In which circumstances have you been shot down?

Lt. Cmdr. JOHN McCAIN, U.S. Navy: I was on a flight over the city of Hanoi. And I was bombing and was hit. And I ejected and broke my leg and both arms and went into a lake, parachuted into a lake.

ROBERT TIMBERG, Author, John McCain: An American Odyssey: Somehow managed with his teeth to pull the plug that caused his life vest to inflate.

NARRATOR: McCain wrote about it in his autobiography.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: ["Faith of My Fathers," audiobook] A crowd of several hundred Vietnamese gathered around me as I lay dazed before them, shouting wildly at me, stripping my clothes off, spitting on me, kicking and striking me repeatedly.

Lt. Cmdr. JOHN McCAIN: And I was picked up by some North Vietnamese and taken to the hospital, where I almost died.

ORSON SWINDLE, POW, 1966-'73: John wouldn't go to sleep. He's in a cast. His eyes are feverish. He's in bad, bad shape. I thought he was going to die.

NARRATOR: And then the North Vietnamese discovered McCain was not just any captive.

INTERVIEWER: May I know who is your father? Could you name him and tell me who he is?

Lt. Cmdr. JOHN McCAIN: Yes, his name is Admiral John McCain.

NARRATOR: McCain's father would soon be in charge of all forces in the South Pacific.

ORSON SWINDLE: Oh, John was a prize. They referred to him as "the prince"- "We've got the prince."

ROBERT TIMBERG: They realize that they have this exceptional public relations tool. And they say to him, "Aha! You're the crown prince."

NARRATOR: "The prince" and his father, the admiral, had never been particularly close.

ROBERT TIMBERG: I think it was a relationship of high regard and respect, but I think he didn't see his father as much as he would have liked.

NARRATOR: McCain's grandfather - they called him "Popeye" - was a legendary admiral in World War II, here posing with McCain's father on the last day of the war in Japan. Inevitably, reluctantly, John McCain would follow them to the Naval Academy.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: ["Faith of My Fathers," audiobook] I was an arrogant, undisciplined, insolent midshipman who felt it necessary to prove my mettle by challenging authority.

MARK SALTER, Co-Author, McCain Autobiography: He graduated fifth from the bottom of his class and he managed to accumulate, as he calls it, a very impressive catalogue of demerits.

ORSON SWINDLE: It's hard to grow up in a family with a military legacy that his family had. I mean, it goes back to George Washington's general staff. That stuff is there. It's like osmosis. So John's got all of this. Then he goes and he gets shot down. And now he's almost dead. And he fights to survive.

NARRATOR: John McCain often defied his captors. He would be regularly threatened and beaten to force him to confess war crimes.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: ["Faith of My Fathers," audiobook] "The Prick" came in with two other guards, lifted me to my feet and gave me the worst beating I had yet experienced. They left me lying on the floor, moaning from the stabbing pain in my refractured arm.

ORSON SWINDLE: There was the sheer pain of it and the deprivation and the humiliation. It's a horrible experience. We had to endure it 24 hours a day, seven days a week for five, six, seven, eight, nine years.

NARRATOR: At one point, McCain was offered an early release, a propaganda move to embarrass his father.

ORSON SWINDLE: "No way. Can't do that. Honor won't let me do that. Sense of duty won't let me do that."

NARRATOR: It meant he would be in prison for five more years.

INTERVIEWER: If you have anything to say to the people you love and the people who loves you, please tell it now. This time is yours.

Lt. Cmdr. JOHN McCAIN: I would just like to tell my wife I'll get well, and I love her and hope to see her soon. I'd appreciate it if you'd tell her that. That's all I have.

Pres. RICHARD M. NIXON: [January 23, 1973] We today have concluded an agreement to end the war-

NARRATOR: He came home angry about why America had lost the Vietnam war, and he spent the next year at the National War College trying to find out why.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: ["Faith of My Fathers," audiobook] The experience did not cause me to conclude that the war was wrong, but I did resent how badly civilian leaders had mismanaged the war and how ineffectually our senior military commanders had resisted their mistakes.

ORSON SWINDLE: A core group of us, we said, "If we ever get out of this place, we're going to do everything we can to be involved in the political process so we never repeat this kind of conduct again, where we get involved in something that we probably don't understand." Noble cause or not, if we don't understand and if we aren't committed to victory, then we shouldn't get involved in it.

[ Read Swindle's interview]

NARRATOR: His body was badly damaged. Active duty was challenging. The Navy decided on a different kind of posting. He was a war hero, celebrity, and so they put him right out front with the politicians.

GARY HART (D), Colorado, 1975-'87: When members of Congress travel, they usually have a captain or colonel as escort officer, and John was our escort officer on several trips.

WILLIAM COHEN (R), Maine, 1978-'97: He was just fun to be with. And he had a sense of derring-do, and, "Let's go do some things, and let's hop on a plane, let's go to such-and-such country."

ROBERT TIMBERG: Rather quickly, he becomes friends with some of the younger senators- Gary Hart, Bill Cohen, later secretary of defense.

WILLIAM COHEN: We would hit a couple of bars and have some beers together. It was mostly three relatively young guys who were having a good time together.

NARRATOR: After a while, he began to get interested in a political career.

GARY HART: We talked about politics, but more from a practical point of view. How do you do you get elected? What kind of campaigns? So it was clear he was learning.

VICTORIA CLARKE, McCain Press Secretary, 1983-'89: He's a bright, sharp guy. I'm sure he looked around and said, "Boy, if these guys can do this, I can do this."

NARRATOR: But McCain's personal life was a mess. His wife, Carol, had dutifully waited through the POW years. A former model, she'd been severely injured in a car accident while McCain was in Vietnam. Now McCain wanted a divorce.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: ["Worth Fighting For," audiobook] My marriage's collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity more than it was to Vietnam, and I cannot escape blame by pointing a finger at the war. The blame was entirely mine.

NARRATOR: He was known to have an eye for women and a taste for the good life. One night in Hawaii, he found what he was looking for.

WILLIAM COHEN: It was love at first sight, and that was it. He said, "I met a gal that you've just got to meet." And he said, "I think this is the gal I'm in love with." You know, that was it.

GARY HART: Bill Cohen and I were members of his wedding party when he and Cindy were married in Arizona.

NARRATOR: Cindy's father owned a lucrative beer distributorship in Arizona. He was rich and connected. Soon John McCain would be, too.

WILLIAM COHEN: For me, it was natural saying, "You're in love with this young woman from Arizona. You're a conservative. Arizona's a conservative state. Go run in Arizona. You'll have your family there and that'll be the basis where you'll start."

NARRATOR: In 1982, he ran for Congress and won. Then four years later, he would take Barry Goldwater's seat in the Senate.

In 2006, for a year, Barack Obama had kept his head down. Now it was time for year two of his plan to kick in. He would ramp up his visibility.

JEFF ZELENY, The New York Times: In 2006, he had a different strategy in his second year, and that was to be helpful to other Democrats.

NARRATOR: The senator from Illinois had national ambitions.

PETE ROUSE, Chief of Staff to Sen. Obama: This was part of the plan, was to go out, and I guess crassly say, build IOUs.

JEFF ZELENY: And how better to sort of get the support from people in the Senate than to help them?

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: It is a battle about education. It is a battle about health care. It is a battle about energy. But it is-

NARRATOR: And he would use the speaking engagements as an opportunity to hone his political message.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: This is the wrong war at the wrong time.

Every child is my child! Every senior citizen deserves protection!

Government can help. The government can make a difference in all of our lives.

DAVID AXELROD, Chief Strategist, Obama Campaign: Everywhere he went, crowds were huge and enthusiastic, record crowds at all these fund-raising events.

NARRATOR: As the crowds grew, Obama and his advisers began to seriously consider whether the time was right for a presidential run.

DAVID AXELROD: I think Obama had a lot of questions and a lot of skepticism about it and wanted to approach the whole process in a methodical way.

NARRATOR: Obama often relied on the advice of political wisemen. One of them was former Democratic leader Tom Daschle.

TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), Sen. Majority Leader, 2001-'03: We went to my favorite restaurant and took the kitchen table in the back where nobody could see us. I tell him he should do it and that he shouldn't assume, if he passes up this window, that there will be another because the longer he's in Washington, the more history he has. And the more history he has, the more he's going to be explaining his votes and his actions and his statements and his positions that undermine his message.

NARRATOR: Then Obama gathered his closest friends and advisers.

CASSANDRA BUTTS, Obama Adviser: He asked us to challenge him on what he would face in running for president, to really ask the tough questions.

PETE ROUSE: And some of the most skeptical people about making this race were some of his very accomplished, successful African-American friends. And I remember one person saying that, "You know, I just don't think America's ready, you know, to elect an African-American." I remember Barack's immediate reaction was, "I don't agree with that, and I think they are ready. But if they're not, they're not going to be ready in my lifetime. So I'm willing to challenge that assumption."

NARRATOR: Obama had been challenging political assumptions for some time. His first race offers an example. An older, experienced state senator, Alice Palmer, in effect offered young Barack Obama her state senate seat.

JANNY SCOTT, The New York Times: Alice Palmer had decided she was going to run for a Congressional seat that had suddenly become open.

RYAN LIZZA, The New Yorker: She gets crushed by Jesse Jackson, Jr.

TONI PRECKWINKLE, Chicago Alderman: Came back to Barack with the hope and expectation that he would drop out in deference to her, and he declined to do so.

JANNY SCOTT: A delegation on behalf of Alice Palmer, including some very august figures from the South Side of Chicago, came to him and asked him to step out of the way and let her, you know, run again for her seat.

RYAN LIZZA: So here's Barack Obama. He's not from Chicago. He's desperately trying to break into politics. And he's being approached by some of the elder African-American leaders of the community, people who've been around a whole lot longer than he has. People are telling him, "Your time will come. Just back down. Just cede this seat to Alice. She's the only reason you're in this race anyway. You owe her."

WILL BURNS, Campaign Staff, Obama '96: Barack wasn't thrilled about it. "I've gone out and raised money, opened an office, recruited people, put my name out there. And I'm supposed to take that back because you now want to change the agreement we already had? That just doesn't make a lot of sense."

TIMUEL D. BLACK, Jr., Chicago Political Activist: His behavior was political in Chicago style. He did what Chicago politicians do, he challenged her petitions.

NARRATOR: Obama played hardball. The signatures on Palmer's hastily assembled election petitions would be compared to the actual voter registry.

WILL BURNS: So I went down to his office and looked at the petitions, and late into the night, checked them against the key book and did what I had to do.

NARRATOR: And while they were at it, Obama checked his other opponents, too.

RYAN LIZZA: Not just Alice Palmer, but all of Obama's opponents are knocked off the ballot, and Obama wins his first election without an opponent. That's a pretty good way to win. Some of his sort of idealistic message of hope has confused people to his sort of inner toughness, you know, the velvet glove around the steel fist.

[ Obama's political skills]

NARRATOR: In 2000, Obama set his sights on a congressional seat, but not just any congressional seat. This one was held by yet another older, highly regarded figure in the black community, Congressman Bobby Rush.

Rev. JESSE JACKSON, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition: Bobby Rush has real strong roots in the community. Bobby Rush was, you know, a Panther. His friends, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were killed. Bobby would have been killed. He was not there that night. But he emerged out of that fight, out of that season, as a kind of tough street guy. And then he matured as a congressman into a guy that took that toughness and broadly applied that. So Bobby Rush had very real strength in the community.

Rep. BOBBY RUSH: What has he done? I mean, what-

NARRATOR: To compete with Rush, Obama tried to reach a new generation of voters in the predominantly black district.

BARACK OBAMA: - district is who can best articulate and frame the issues that are most important to voters in the district-

DAVID MENDELL, Author, Obama: From Promise to Power: It was very much this theme of unity, "We can all get along with one another. We should help the most- the most vulnerable in our society. We need to rebuild our communities from the ground up."

WILL BURNS: I think what Barack's strategy is, is to emphasize the common challenges that black and white Americans face.

Rep. BOBBY RUSH: I know that you are a wise man and you seem very astute on the issues, but I-

NARRATOR: But in Bobby Rush's district, they publicly questioned whether Obama had enough experience, and privately wondered whether he was black enough.

Rep. BOBBY RUSH: - African-American ministers have endorsed me based on my record-

SALIM MUWAKKIL, Columnist, Chicago Tribune: How dedicated is he to the black struggle?

DAVID MENDELL: He was fighting off these, "Is he black enough," charges.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: That's always been a subtext of the opposition to him from other black politicians.

DAVID MENDELL: They looked at him with a little apprehension.

RYAN LIZZA: All of these things come back in the Bobby Rush campaign, and they come back in a very nasty way.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: The charges of elitism is this Harvard guy with well-modulated eloquence, what does he know about the black struggle?

RYAN LIZZA: There's a long article about the race in The Chicago Reader, the local alternative paper in Chicago, where one of Obama's opponents, he says, "Obama is viewed as the white man in blackface in our community."

WILL BURNS: It got bad. It was real bad. A number of black nationalists and other observers in the African-American community, you know, made all sorts of allegations about Barack being a tool of, you know, Hyde Park and the University of Chicago, which are both code words for both whites and Jews.

KENNETH MACK, Professor, Harvard Law School: It wouldn't be the first time that someone had called him "not black enough." I think what was probably surprising for him was how much traction it got and how effective it was against him in that particular circumstance.

NARRATOR: He believed he'd already put down roots in Chicago's black community. He lived in the district, worked on Civil Rights cases. And perhaps most importantly, he'd fallen in love with and married a woman from the neighborhood.

Rev. JESSE JACKSON: Her roots in Chicago went deeper than his roots in Chicago. She comes from a middle-class working family with working family values and strong church values. She went to public school. And she and my daughter were classmates. They were friends. And so she has roots there and so she would know people he did not know in the places he would not know.

JANNY SCOTT: That alliance gave him a kind of rootedness in that community that he really didn't have because of the kind of relative rootlessness of his childhood and upbringing.

BARACK OBAMA: ["Audacity of Hope," audiobook] For someone like me, who had barely known his father, who had spent much of his life traveling from place to place, his bloodlines scattered to the four winds, the home that Fraiser and Marian Robinson had built for themselves stirred a longing for stability and a sense of place that I had not realized was there.

CASSANDRA BUTTS: It was a very important personal connection. In Michelle, he found a partner who was able to ground him personally. And the fact that she was so rooted in the community was- had obvious value. But you know, it was very personal.

NARRATOR: There was, inside black Chicago, another place Barack Obama wanted to put down roots, the church.

RYAN LIZZA: Obama was very sort of meticulous about going to the various pastors, interviewing them, talking to them about their churches and their reputations. So he was- he was on a sort of quest to find a church home.

NARRATOR: Obama settled on Trinity Church.

LIZA MUNDY, The Washington Post: It's a big, popular inner city church that was known for its community work.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: It probably gathers the most members of Chicago's black elite.

NARRATOR: Trinity was led by Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Rev. JESSE JACKSON: Reverend Wright is a very profound preacher, very scholarly, very popular in the church circles.

Rev. JEREMIAH WRIGHT: Apartheid is wrong! Oppression is wrong! Anybody who feels white skin is superior to black skin is wrong!

SALIM MUWAKKIL: He had the reputation of a militant guy who could- he provided kind of a vicarious militance for Chicago's black elites and so they could get a dose of militance on Sunday and go back home and feel pretty good about doing their part for the black movement.

NARRATOR: So membership in Trinity might have been good for Obama personally and even politically. But it didn't help on election day against Bobby Rush.

TONI PRECKWINKLE: The last week of the campaign, Bill Clinton did radio spots for him on black radio.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: [Bobby Rush radio commercial] I'm President Clinton, urging you to send Bobby Rush back to Congress where he can continue his fight to prepare our children for the 21st century.

TONI PRECKWINKLE: It was hopeless.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: Illinois and America need Bobby Rush in Congress.

WILL BURNS: We lost badly, two to one. I was the deputy campaign manager and the field director in that race, and we lost badly.

DAVID MENDELL: It was the first time in his life where people didn't just really accept him immediately, where things didn't really go perfectly for him.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: The Bobby Rush defeat helped him understand that his natural constituency were not these working class African-Americans with nationalist aspirations, but rather with progressive whites, progressive African-Americans, those who had a wider view of what politics was all about.

NARRATOR: Obama would pursue that coalition in 2004 when the state senator decided to try to become the United States senator.

RYAN LIZZA: Obama was a little bit too much of a lone wolf in the 2000 campaign. He didn't have enough support, had sort of gotten into the race without thinking it through, which is uncharacteristic for Obama. And as he plotted his next political campaign, he avoided all the mistakes of that 2000 race.

BARACK OBAMA: [2004 Senate campaign commercial] If there's a child on the South Side of Chicago that can't read, that makes a difference in my life, even if it's not my child!

NARRATOR: This is the time he signed up David Axelrod.

BARACK OBAMA: [2004 Senate campaign commercial] If there is an Arab-American somewhere getting rounded up with out benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties, even if I'm not an immigrant!

DAVID MENDELL: He had a political story to tell, and Axelrod knew how to pick out the various aspects of that story and really sell them to voters.

BARACK OBAMA: [2004 Senate campaign commercial] I worked on the South Side of Chicago with a group of churches that had come together to try-

DAVID MENDELL: His community organizing days went over extraordinarily well with blacks. His time at Harvard-

BARACK OBAMA: [2004 Senate campaign commercial] - an African-American had never led the Harvard Law Review until I changed that.

DAVID MENDELL: - suddenly, whites are, like, "Oh, OK." They're very accepting of him.

BARACK OBAMA: [2004 Senate campaign commercial] I'm Barack Obama. I'm running for United States Senate, and I approved this message to say, yes, we can.

DAVID MENDELL: That television campaign really sold voters on the story of Barack Obama.

BARACK OBAMA: Yes, we can! Thank you, Illinois! I love you!

NARRATOR: And so just four years after his loss to Bobby Rush, Obama put together that special coalition and a victory.

SALIM MUWAKKIL, Columnist, Chicago Tribune: At the victory party for his election, it looked like a replay of Harold Washington's mayoral victory party. It really did. I mean, there were black people there who were ecstatic about the rise of this young brother, and a range of white supporters, primarily these progressives who supported Harold Washington. It was extraordinary, really, the way that the crowds echoed each other.

NARRATOR: Two years later, in 2006, as a United States senator, Obama had to decide whether he could put together an even bigger coalition to run for the presidency.

DAVID AXELROD: He went off to Hawaii at the end of 2006 with his family, thought hard about it and came back and said, "I think I want to do this."

NARRATOR: It was 16 degrees on the cold February day when Barack Obama announced his candidacy.

BEN WALLACE-WELLS, Rolling Stone: Obama's scheduled to deliver this big event in Springfield. And that was going to be in Springfield, home of Abe Lincoln. It's, like, a very big deal for the campaign.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: [February 10, 2000] Praise and honor to God for bringing us together here today!

NARRATOR: They had even invited his minister from Trinity Church, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to deliver the invocation. But there was a problem. A story in Rolling Stone quoted some of the pastor's fiery sermons.

READER: "Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run."

MARK HALPERIN, TIME Magazine: His advisers knew that Wright was a big problem, that if people went back and mined what he had said, if they looked at Obama and looked at Wright and their relationship that it could change the impression that people had of Obama.

BEN WALLACE-WELLS: What Axelrod told me later is that the campaign became worried that Fox News would blast these quotes from Obama's crazy pastor, so they yanked Wright. They basically told him that he couldn't be part of this event and Wright got very mad.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America!

DAN BALZ, The Washington Post: On that cold, cold morning, not to have Reverend Wright give the invocation was certainly a sign that they knew there was some problem brewing. I think the question was, how big a problem was it, how could they deal with it if it erupted, and could they just kind of keep it in the back?

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: Thank you very much, everybody! Let's get to work! I love you! Thank you!

NARRATOR: This building has been the site of many scandals- careers broken, lives altered. Such a moment happened to John McCain back in 1989.

JOHN WEAVER, McCain Chief Political Adviser, 1997-'07: He understands, and he'll admit, that when his obituary is written, the Keating scandal will be somewhere high in the obituary. And so he understands the dark stain that that had on his career. He understands that.

NEWSCASTER: Never before have five senators been accused of intervening with federal regulators-

NEWSCASTER: The Keating Five, four Democratic senators, one Republican-

NEWSCASTER: This man is a United States senator, and you are about to hear him say something that very few senators have ever said before. Listen carefully.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: ["MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour," November 20, 1989] It was a very serious mistake on my part. The appearance of a meeting with five senators was bad and wrong, and I agonized it over the time.

VICTORIA CLARKE, McCain Press Secretary, 1983-'89: Here's John McCain. He's doing great in the Senate. He's starting to get national recognition and prominence. People are putting him on the list of possible vice presidential running mates. Everything is going great. And then, bam, this scandal hits. And even by today's standards it was a big scandal, involving five very important members of the United States Senate.

NEWSCASTER: Four of the best known names in the U.S. Senate pressured a government regulator-

NEWSCASTER: Today's testimony may be just the beginning in a scandal that seems to grow wider with each public hearing-

VICTORIA CLARKE: That scandal took off pretty quickly, and it was like a tsunami.

Sen. HOWELL HEFLIN (D-AL), Ethics Committee Chair: The procedure will be Senator McCain. And he and his lawyer will appear first-

NARRATOR: At the center of the scandal was McCain's friend and contributor, Charles Keating, an Arizona high roller and owner of a failed savings and loan.

JERRY KAMMER, Reporter, The Arizona Republic: In 1987, Keating was engaged in a war with federal regulators who were on his case, who looked at his investment portfolio, examined his books and were astonished and alarmed and horrified at the way he was throwing around his money, which was federally insured deposits.

Sen. HOWELL HEFLIN: Do you solemnly swear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I do.

JERRY KAMMER: And Keating, having donated more than $1 million to these five senators, who became known as the Keating Five, called upon them and asked them to intervene with the regulators on his behalf.

Sen. JOHN MCCAIN: On April 2nd, I attended a meeting in Senator Deconcini's office to inquire about whether American Continental Corporation and Lincoln Savings were being treated fairly.

NARRATOR: McCain and the other senators met with the top federal regulator.

EDWIN GRAY, Chmn., Federal Home Loan Bank Board: [FRONTLINE, "Other People's Money," May 1, 1990] They were United States senators who oversaw our agency. You know, I considered senators pretty important, especially a lot of them at one time.

NARRATOR: The FBI dug into the case. Congress began an investigation. The press had a field day. McCain desperately wanted to clear his name. He decided straight talk was called for.

VICTORIA CLARKE: And he said, "So from this day forward," he says, "we're going to take every interview that we can take. We're going to prioritize Arizona media over national media, but we'll do them all."

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: [FRONTLINE, May 1, 1990] Yes, mistakes were made. Yes, the appearance of five senators in one meeting is poor, to say the least. But to translate that into improper behavior or abuse of office is simply something that I don't believe that the people of Arizona would do.

JERRY KAMMER: This was the beginning of a pattern that he has developed at moments of crisis. He'll stand there until the last reporter sits down. And I think it's worked very well for him.

NARRATOR: The press backed off, and the Congress all but cleared him of wrongdoing.

READER: "Senator McCain has violated no law of the United States or specific rule of the United States Senate."

NARRATOR: They said he was guilty of poor judgment.

JERRY KAMMER: He wasn't corrupted in the sense of abusing his office. I think you could say that he was compromised in the same way that all politicians who develop buddy-buddy relationships with powerful businessmen who bankroll their campaigns are because I think, inevitably, there's a certain reciprocity that's expected.

VICTORIA CLARKE: Most people said, after having gone through what he went through in the Keating Five, that's it. His chances of any national office are over, are done with. And by the way, he's probably not going to be very successful in the United States Senate. He proved them wrong. His life has been proving people wrong.

NEWSCASTER: To the surprise of nearly no one, John McCain has officially made it not quite official-

NEWSCASTER: Arizona Senator John McCain moved a step closer to making his candidacy official-

NEWSCASTER: Yesterday, the early frontrunner for the Republican nomination filed some papers, and that's all John McCain has to do to make news-

NARRATOR: By 2007, John McCain, long past the Keating five scandal, was busy positioning himself as the Republican frontrunner for the presidency.

RON BROWNSTEIN, Author, The Second Civil War: He wanted to be the establishment candidate, the vision that the Republicans always nominate the next guy in line- George H.W. Bush in '88, Robert Dole in '96, Reagan in '80- he wanted to be that guy.

MARK HALPERIN, Co-Author, The Way to Win: He wanted to be, for the first time, an elder statesman, someone who was inheriting the mantle of the Republican Party.

NARRATOR: But McCain had made some important enemies inside the Republican base. Back in 2000, running against George W. Bush, McCain incurred the wrath of the religious right.

JOHN WEAVER, McCain Chief Political Adviser, 1997-'07: They aligned themselves with Bush and allowed their organizations to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, particularly in South Carolina, against McCain.

NARRATOR: At this town hall meeting, McCain let them have it.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: [February 28, 2000] Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.

ELISABETH BUMILLER, The New York Times: McCain had called leaders of the Christian right "agents of intolerance." This was a phrase never forgotten.

NARRATOR: But six years later, McCain changed course in a meeting with evangelical minister Jerry Falwell.

MARK SALTER, McCain Senior Adviser: Reverend Falwell came to see him, said, you know, "put our past differences behind us," or acrimony behind us or something, and then asked him on the spot if he would consider giving the commencement address at Liberty. And he responded on the spot, "Sure."

JON STEWART, The Daily Show: [April 4, 2006] Senator! I heard this crazy story that Senator John McCain is giving the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's university.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Well, before I bring on my two attorneys, I'd like to-

JON STEWART: Don't- don't make me love you!

DAN BALZ, The Washington Post: It cut against, you know, everything that McCain had done and said up to that point.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Why I did it is because of the fact that my kids said, "Why haven't you been on the Jon Stewart show lately?" And I figured that was the best way to do that.


MATTHEW DOWD, Political Consultant: John McCain is a politician. He's been elected to the Senate. He's involved in politics. He understands that yesterday's battles are yesterday's battles, and if you're going to win tomorrow's, you may have to do things differently.

JON STEWART: So are you freaking out on us? Because if you're freaking out and you're going into the crazy base world- are you going into crazy base world?

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I'm afraid so.

MATT BAI, The New York Times Magazine: McCain has demonstrated both a temperamental inclination and a real ability over the course of his political life to- to do things that are politically expedient, and at the same time, signal with a sense of irony and detachment that he doesn't really like doing it, that in a sense, he's being forced by political necessity to do it.

NARRATOR: He did it again with the announcement of his candidacy. Instead of a traditional setting, McCain choose a different venue.

[ McCain's political skills]

DAVID LETTERMAN, The Late Show: [February 29, 2007] Are you thinking seriously of running? Are you running? Are you going to announce that you're running?

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: You asked me if I would come back on this show if I was going to announce. I am announcing that I will be a candidate for president of the United States.

DAVID LETTERMAN: Oh! Good for you. Seems to be a very popular announcement.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Paul, can we try that again? Da-Da-da-da... [band plays opening bars of "Hail to the Chief"]

DAVID LETTERMAN: How about that!

DAN BALZ: The struggle for John McCain's heart and soul is part of the story of the last eight years. You know, John McCain sees himself as a maverick and has always operated in that way. At the same time, he is determined, and has been determined for the last four years, to become the nominee of the Republican Party. That requires a set of trade-offs.

NARRATOR: He would have to position himself as the heir apparent to George W. Bush. On issue after issue, McCain moved closer to the party faithful, becoming an outspoken advocate for president's controversial plan to change Social Security. Once an opponent of the president's tax cuts, McCain voted to extend them. On torture, he agreed with the administration's plan to limit the rights of detainees. And he agreed with the vice president that the CIA could use tougher interrogation techniques than the military.

He even copied Bush's huge and expensive reelection campaign of 2004. The bare bones "Straight Talk Express," McCain's famous bus from 2000, was transformed.

MARK SHEAR, The Washington Post: It was a huge, expensive bus with leather seats and flat screen televisions.

NARRATOR: The bus cost $10,000 a day.

MARK SHEAR: They very much believed that in order to win, he had to sort of be like George Bush. And they drew up this $150 million campaign plan that very much looked a lot like the George Bush model and machine.

MARK HALPERIN: It was a frontrunner's campaign, a big, well-funded frontrunner's campaign, and one that depended on the prospect of inevitability rather than fighting, underdog, maverick, anti-establishment. It was not a good fit for him, and it crashed and burned.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), McCain Campaign Committee: We had a budget that was based on being the preemptive favorite. We assumed things that did not happen. We hit a wall. We hit a wall.

DAN BALZ: People who had made pledges wouldn't go through with them. And so the McCain campaign realizes, "All estimates that we have of the amount of money we're going to have are completely wrong."

NARRATOR: The smart money was on the sidelines watching Giuliani and Romney. McCain's high-end campaign was going bust.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM: His obituary was being written every day in about 10 different ways. Every talk show, every newspaper had written John off. We were fifth in a four-person race. You know, had 'em right where we want 'em, right?

NARRATOR: McCain asked one of his oldest friends, former POW Orson Swindle, to take a hard look at the campaign's management.

ORSON SWINDLE, McCain Adviser: When things started to go awry, he asked me, "Go over there and sit in on the meetings and tell me what you think." And you know, I did that for a week or two. And he said, "What do you think?" I said, "It's a bleeping mess." [laughs]

NARRATOR: McCain's team had locked up much of the high-priced consulting talent and created offices all across the country, trying to scare off potential opponents.

MARK McKINNON, Media Adviser, McCain campaign, 2007-'08: The spending was out of control, that there was- you know, there were sort of different power centers in the campaign, no clear lines of authority. Just it had the feel of a campaign that was in freefall.

JOHN WEAVER, McCain Chief Political Adviser,1997-'07: There was no clear chain of command. The finance division was totally separate from the political division. No one knew how much money we were raising, so we couldn't match spending with that.

ELISABETH BUMILLER, The New York Times: The money has just vanished. Twenty-four million dollars is gone. There's a staff of 150 that can't be paid. People are just laid off, fired.

VICTORIA CLARKE, McCain Press Secretary, 1983-'89: He's not used to having hundreds and thousands of people around him in this huge bureaucracy. And it didn't work. It didn't work. And one of the very legitimate questions people raised during the primary process was, "Look, if he can't manage this campaign better than they have- think about all the money they had that went down the drain. If they can't manage this campaign better, how's he going to run the United States?"

NEWSCASTER: The big news is about John McCain, who's spent every penny he raised and more-

NEWSCASTER: His campaign piggy bank has been hemorrhaging money-

NEWSCASTER: Out of money, sinking in the polls and hemorrhaging staff-

NARRATOR: It was a wake-up call for McCain. Embarrassed and angry, he decided to clean house. John Weaver would have to go.

DAN BALZ: To lose John Weaver is to lose, for McCain, his right arm.

MARK McKINNON, Media Adviser, McCain campaign, 2007-'08: McCain did the hardest thing in the world to do, he pulled the trigger on some people who'd been around him, you know, most of his political life. Pretty tough thing to do.

JOHN WEAVER: The night before I resigned, we had a wonderful conversation. And I told him I loved him and that we didn't want to- I didn't want to argue with him any more about all these various issues that we had been arguing about. And it didn't take me more than a nanosecond to know what I needed to do.

DAN BALZ: I think John McCain, more than anything, is embarrassed. And I say that because I believe that McCain saw that campaign come undone and said to himself, "I should have known more about this. I should have taken a more active role in it. I have failed in some fundamental way as a leader." And I think he was embarrassed at the state of his campaign and the state of his candidacy.

NARRATOR: McCain headed for his ranch in Arizona. He'd worry about the future with a small group of loyalists.

MARK McKINNON: Literally, the plan was the Merle Haggard Strategy. Merle Haggard has a great song called, "If we make it through December, everything's going to be all right, I know."

MERLE HAGGARD: [singing] If we make it through December, everything's going to be all right, I know.

MARK McKINNON: And that was just it. And it was as simple as just, "Let's just make sure we're on the field in the fourth quarter when the game gets decided."

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Got everybody in a room and said, "Here's the deal. Going to run this campaign on a million dollars. If I have to"- you know, "If I have to take a cab, I'm going to take a cab. If I have to fly coach, we're going to fly coach."

MIKE SHEAR: The fancy bus is gone. The charter planes are gone. Literally, overnight became a campaign that was on a shoestring budget for months.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: You know, packs an overnight bag and boards a discount airline and flies up to New Hampshire by himself. He's the campaign. He's met by an aide with a family car. And they decide they're going to live off the land and just focus all their efforts on New Hampshire.

DAN BALZ: We've always known that to survive what he did in Vietnam in that prisoner of war camp takes an extraordinary human being, that this is a guy who is willing to do what is necessary when he thinks he has to do it in order to survive and keep going.

NEWSCASTER: Today, Iowans make the first decisions that will count-

NARRATOR: If Barack Obama wanted to be president, there would be no more difficult time and place than Iowa in 2008.

NEWSCASTER: Who is going to get out the vote-

TOM DASCHLE: The Obama campaign had to win Iowa. If we won Iowa, it would give us life, it would give us an opportunity to compete elsewhere.

NARRATOR: There were seven other candidates in the race, but one everyone knew he had to beat, the best political brand in the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton.

ANNE KORNBLUT, The Washington Post: In those first early days, it was very hard to see how she wasn't going to be the nominee.

Prof. ROGER WILKINS, George Mason University: She had the money. She had most of the party. And for what it was worth - and I think it was worth a good deal in certain precincts - she was a Clinton.

NARRATOR: Clinton would run on her experience, but Obama had devised a different strategy.

ROBERT GIBBS, Communications Director, Obama Campaign: The premise of this campaign is that people want a different way of doing things in Washington. They want to turn the page. They want to change.

NARRATOR: And Obama had a ready-made issue for one important constituency, the anti-war movement.

CASSANDRA BUTTS, Obama Adviser: The point of entry for them was his position on Iraq, the fact that he had good judgment on- in- on that decision, which was pretty significant.

BARACK OBAMA: [October 2, 2002] I don't oppose war in all circumstances, and when I look out over this crowd today, I know there is no shortage of patriots or patriotism. What I do oppose is a dumb war!

NARRATOR: It was a speech he had made as an Illinois state senator at a small anti-war rally in Chicago, but now it would play to his advantage.

DAVID MENDELL, Author, Obama: From Promise to Power: He set himself out against the war from the very beginning, while other candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, you know- these folks had to combat their votes on that.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: [July 23, 2007] The time for us to ask how we were going to get out of Iraq was before we went in, and that is something that too many of us failed to do. We failed to do it, and I do think that that is something that both Republicans and Democrats have to take responsibility for.

DAVID MENDELL: That anti-Iraq war speech that he gave in 2002 was the gift that just kept on giving for him.

NARRATOR: Obama's plan in Iowa was to mobilize his coalition of anti-war voters, young people and progressives.

CASSANDRA BUTTS: It was his vision to run a campaign that was a grass-roots organizing campaign, very much influenced by his community organizing experience.

MATT BAI, Author, The Argument: The organization of the Obama people you talk to on the ground was surprisingly impressive and actually better than Hillary Clinton's was. For all the campaigns the Clintons had run, for all the talent they had locked up early in the campaign, he was beating her in the operational aspects of the campaign in Iowa. This was a guy who was running a really professional, locked down campaign operation. And that- that indicated to me that he was not going anywhere anytime soon.

NARRATOR: The war, the grass roots, the yearning for change yielded huge crowds.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: And because somebody stood up, a few more stood up. And then a few thousands stood up, and then a few million stood up! Iowa, I need you to stand up!

MATT BAI: Obama in Iowa was pretty extraordinary. I mean, I've witnessed some pretty cool things in politics. Every four years, there's something. But Obama really had something going in Iowa, it was clear, because the size of those crowds, he was packing thousands of people into really impressive venues.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: We will win this election! We will change the course of history! And the real journey to heal the nation and repair the world will have truly have begun! Thank you, Iowa!

MATTHEW DOWD, Political Consultant: I think Barack Obama gave something new. He inspired people. Hillary Clinton is a- is a worker, and she understands the process and she can get in there and know how to pass a bill. But Barack Obama's a poet. And I think a lot of people, especially a lot of younger voters, were sort of looking for a poet.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: We are at a defining moment in our history-

NARRATOR: Obama was doing something else in Iowa, devising a strategy to prove he could win with a majority of white votes. In fact, he had intentionally not courted blacks.

TOM DASCHLE: There was a perception that an African-American candidate could do well with African-American voters but not much beyond that. And so Iowa turned out to be the real litmus test. Did he have capacity to draw votes from other demographic groups?

Prof. ROGER WILKINS: If white people would vote for a black candidate in a mainly white state, it said this guy really has a chance. This is not playing anymore. This is not Jesse.

CAUCUS VOLUNTEER: Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention?

NARRATOR: By the day of the caucuses, it was not clear the Obama organization could overcome the Clinton machine. It was all on the line.

CAUCUS VOLUNTEER: The official count of the caucus is 145 attendees. The viability is 21.75. It takes 22 people to be viable.

ROBERT GIBBS: We start to initially get sort of turn-out reports, very anecdotal. The lines are out the door.

DAN BALZ: Nobody foresaw 239,000 people participating in the Iowa caucuses. I mean, so when 239,000 people came out, like, you know, they just blew the doors off every assumption about the campaign.

NEWSCASTER: The frontrunners lost their footing on the Iowa ice, and suddenly, the entire U.S. presidential race seems a little slippery-

NEWSCASTER: New voters were key, especially for Barack Obama, who got the youth vote-

NEWSCASTER: The results of the Iowa caucuses are in. Barack Obama won the Democratic caucuses-

NEWSCASTER: And Hillary Clinton's potential coronation crashed into a third-place finish-

NARRATOR: His victory in a state that was 90 percent white sent a message to a potential constituency that hadn't fully gotten behind him.

Prof. ROGER WILKINS: All of a sudden, people woke up and said, "My God, maybe it could happen." That's what happened. And it was like a jolt of electricity going through the entirety of the black community.

NARRATOR: But Obama's message went beyond race.

MARK HALPERIN: Barack Obama told a different story than anyone had ever told as a presidential candidate. It is post-historical, post-racial, post-modern, and it fits not just his biography, not just his style of rhetoric, but the vision he has for America.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: All right, everybody. It was good to see you. We had a good night. My throat is hoarse, but my spirits are good.

NARRATOR: Obama then ran into a formidable obstacle, the Bill and Hillary Clinton political machine.

BILL CLINTON, Former President of the United States: This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.

NARRATOR: They would engage Obama in a long and bloody battle in one primary state after another.

BILL CLINTON: Give me a break.

DAN BALZ: At this point, Bill Clinton is not simply a surrogate, he's kind of a separate force within the campaign.

NEWSCASTER: Not everyone is comfortable with Bill Clinton's role as the aggressor-

NEWSCASTER: His job this time, designated hitter for his wife, attacking Barack Obama so she doesn't have to-

NEWSCASTER: He has been the attack dog for this campaign-

NEWSCASTER: This is what she wants him to do. This is a strategy-

BILL CLINTON: She'll be a great president.

CASSANDRA BUTTS: I think that there were some times when Barack thought of it as being Bill Clinton versus Barack Obama. You know, I think it definitely felt that way. President Clinton was a presence, a significant presence.

BILL CLINTON: I believe she's the best candidate for president I've-

NARRATOR: It seemed Obama now had two opponents.

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), Presidential Candidate: You talked about Ronald Reagan being a transformative political leader. I did not mention his name.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: Your husband did.

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I'm here. He's not. And-

BARACK OBAMA: OK. Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.

DAVID AXELROD, Chief Strategist, Obama Campaign: They really went at each other in a way that they hadn't

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON: - committed spouses who stand up for us, and I'm proud of that.

DAVID AXELROD: So the whole atmosphere was, you know, rife with tension.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: Wait. No. Hillary, you just spoke-

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON: I did not- I did not say anything-

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: - for two minutes.

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON: - about Ronald Reagan. You said two things. You talked about admiring Ronald Reagan-

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON: Now, wait. I'm sorry. You- you-

NEWSCASTER: Iowa? That was so yesterday-

NEWSCASTER: With the caucuses behind them, the presidential candidates hit the campaign trail in New Hampshire today-

NEWSCASTER: Turnout is expected to be very high as voters choose-

NARRATOR: John McCain had not really competed in Iowa. He had bet everything on New Hampshire.

MICHAEL SHEAR, The Washington Post: I actually think he felt somewhat liberated. "What the heck? You know, we have no money. We have no- you know, everybody has counted us out. Well, I'm going to do what I can do, and you know, either I'll win or I won't."

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: My friends, I'd like to get right to it with a few of the issues-

NARRATOR: McCain decided straight talk was the way to go.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: - what town meetings are all about-

NARRATOR: And he'd do it in as many town halls as he could.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM: He's a different candidate, is almost free, is almost like chains were off of him. We went to some VFW somewhere. There were 12 guys showed up. The average age was 90. And they couldn't hear a word he was saying, hardly. I'm sitting there and I'm beginning to laugh because these are wonderful old guys. "What'd he say?" And- but they got bits and pieces. And they stood up, or tried to stand up at the appropriate times and cheer. And I said, "John, here's the good news, buddy. We're killin' 'em with the over-90 crowd." [laughs]

JOHN McCAIN: It's nice to see all this snow and water. In Arizona, we have so little water, the trees chase the dogs.

MARK McKINNON: People are starting to see McCain again. He's out in the town halls. You know, the first one, there's just, like, seven show up. But then, you know, each successive one we do, more people are showing up, not less. So it's building. We can feel it building. It's getting stronger. Something's happening.

NARRATOR: He appeared at over 100 town hall meetings.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM: John- I don't know how many town halls. I think people ran away from him. "I've seen you 12 times." [laughs] I think he's met every man, woman and child in New Hampshire, and he loves it.

DAN BALZ: There's genuine affection for John McCain in New Hampshire. He built a bond with New Hampshire voters in 2000 that gave him the ability to come back as John McCain, not as some imitation of John McCain.

NARRATOR: They picked up a new bus. They called it "No Surrender." The straight talk was about his most controversial public position, support for the Iraq war and the surge.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM: He said, as to the war, "We're going to commit ourselves to winning this thing, like the troops have."

NARRATOR: But some on his staff were dead set against it.

MARK McKINNON: I could tell you that there were plenty of voices that were saying, "Stay away. It's political suicide."

MARK SALTER, McCain Senior Adviser: The war was extremely unpopular. We picked that up in the polling. We're not- we can read a poll. And you know, plenty of us thought, you know, "You got to get out from under this thing. It'll kill you." "Absolutely not."

INTERVIEWER: Wouldn't move?


MARK McKINNON: He's tough. He's just tough and in just a very battened-down way. I mean, he's just an immovable object when it comes to issues like that. There's just- there's no discussion. It's just, "This is the way it's going to be." Very unpopular position, doubling down on the most unpopular issue in America. He doubled down.

NARRATOR: Ever since the summer of 2003, McCain had been pushing the administration to add more troops.

MIKE SHEAR: John McCain is on Meet the Press every week saying, "We got to surge. We got to have more troops. We got to have more troops."

ELISABETH BUMILLER, The New York Times: He was opposed to the way the war had been waged in the first four years. He was opposed to Rumsfeld. He was opposed to the general incompetence on the part of the White House.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times: John McCain sat down in December of 2006 to write a letter to the president, a private letter. The letter was not released publicly, three pages, and said, "We're going to lose this war unless we make a more serious effort here. It's a matter of will, not of capacity."

NARRATOR: But most in Washington wanted the president to bring the troops home as soon as possible. Bush decided to send in even more.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [January 10, 2007] The new strategy will change America's course in Iraq and help us succeed in the fight against terror.

PETER BAKER: John McCain looked at George Bush and saw that he resisted all the pressure around him, saw that he stood up to conventional wisdom and said, "I'm going to do this because I think this is right." And nothing in John McCain's mind is a bigger test of leadership than that.

NARRATOR: In New Hampshire, John McCain stood by the president and the surge.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I would rather lose an election than to stay silent and watch my country lose a war.

NARRATOR: And on election night, he won.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: [January 8, 2008] My friends, you know, I'm past the age when I can claim the noun "kid,' no matter what adjective precedes it. But tonight, we sure showed 'em what a comeback looks like!

ORSON SWINDLE: The room was packed. It was- given everything that John had been through the past year, and you know, being essentially pronounced dead, it just was pretty damn satisfying.

NARRATOR: But for all the fun McCain had in New Hampshire, there was one undeniable reality: It wasn't the Republican faithful that were responsible for his win.

RON BROWNSTEIN, Author, The Second Civil War: He only runs even in the exit poll among self-identified Republicans. Again, he depends on moderates and independents, and he faces the same question coming out of New Hampshire that he did eight years ago: Could he get core Republicans to vote for him in sufficient numbers? And to a remarkable extent, the answer once again is no.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Enjoy this. You have earned it more than me. Tomorrow we begin again. Thank you.

SUPPORTERS: John McCain! John McCain! John McCain!

NEWSCASTER: The next big battlefield is South Carolina-

NEWSCASTER: Big, big race in South Carolina for the Republicans this weekend-

NEWSCASTER: The candidate coming in to South Carolina with the most momentum, Senator John McCain, may also be the one with the most to lose here-

NARRATOR: John McCain came to South Carolina with the urgent need to demonstrate to the conservative base of the Republican Party that he could be their candidate.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM: You could write New Hampshire off as just a different place that likes John McCain. He's the king of New Hampshire. But to become the frontrunner, you had to win in a red state. And you had to win where I live.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I have 25-year pro-life record-

NARRATOR: McCain would need to appeal to the very people who had helped destroy his candidacy in 2000.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: To the McCain campaign, this was the scene of the crime. This is where he had gone down in defeat in smear tactics that he to this day thinks were orchestrated by the Bush campaign.

CHARLIE COOK, The Cook Political Report: Some of the most horrific things ever said about a candidate were said by Bush people against John McCain.

DAN BALZ: These are people who fought against John McCain in 2000, who by 2005 and 2006, he was actively courting, recruiting, trying to bring them around to his campaign.

NARRATOR: He'd paid his dues, working hard for the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004 and reconciling with the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM: We were able to put together a coalition of evangelical Christians who saw John fight for Roberts and Alito. We were able to convince people that he was a social, economic conservative, and on the signature issue of our campaign, winning this war, he was best qualified.

NARRATOR: To emphasize the candidate's war record and his religious faith, the McCain campaign created a TV commercial.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: [campaign commercial] One night after being mistreated as a POW, a guard loosened the ropes binding me, easing my pain. On Christmas, the same guard approached me and without saying a word, he drew a cross in the sand. We stood wordlessly looking at the cross, remembering the true light of Christmas.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: And that turned out to be, according to the polling, an extremely effective ad for conservative voters in South Carolina.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: [campaign commercial] I'll never forget that no matter where you are, no matter how difficult the circumstances, there will always be someone who will pick you up.

MARK McKINNON: You know, it was one of the most effective things we did during the campaign. And it really, really worked.

SUPPORTERS: Jack is back! Jack is back!

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: [January 19, 2008] Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, my friends! Thank you, South Carolina!

DAN BALZ: South Carolina's a big victory for McCain because of what had happened in 2000. And as a psychological victory, it's huge for him.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: You know, it took us a while, but what's eight years among friends?

NARRATOR: But once again, the margin of victory for McCain inside his own party was slim.

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), House Speaker, 1995-'99: If Fred Thompson had dropped out three days earlier, probably Mike Huckabee would have won. So you had the conservatives split. You had a pro-military, relatively conservative McCain do well and win by a narrow margin in a multi-way race. But he won by a pretty narrow margin.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Good night. And God bless you, as you have blessed me. Thank you. Thank you again.

NEWSCASTER: Super Tuesday is over, the presidential nominating contests are not.

NEWSCASTER: On the Democratic side, the waters are as muddy as ever-

NEWSCASTER: Both appear set to sustain the struggle-

NARRATOR: Last spring, as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continued to slug it out in primary after primary, a controversy erupted.

Rev. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, Trinity United Church of Christ: Not God bless America, God damn America! That's in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human!

NARRATOR: Those videotapes of Obama's minister, Jeremiah Wright, hit the airwaves.

ANNE KORNBLUT, The Washington Post: There was a lot of consternation in the Clinton campaign that they didn't discover this themselves, that this was the lowest of low-hanging fruit for an opposition researcher, to go and find these tapes. I mean, his name had been in the paper. You knew he was out there. He had cited him in his book. And so the Clinton people were saying to themselves, "Whose job was it to go find the old tapes of Reverend Wright, and why didn't we do it a year ago?'

Rev. JEREMIAH WRIGHT: Yes, 9/11/01 happened to us. And so did slavery happen to us!

JEFF ZELENY, The New York Times: He saw them on television. We're told that he was jarred by it. He knew it was a problem.

DAVID MENDELL, Author, Obama: From Promise to Power: I'm sure that was a painful thing for him. They had a bond together. They were very close at one time in their lives, and I'm sure it was painful for Obama.

Rev. JEREMIAH WRIGHT: I am sick of Negroes who just do not get it!

KENNETH MACK, Professor, Harvard Law School: I was surprised at seeing the film of Reverend Wright. It's not evocative of the Barack Obama that I know. These two things seemed to be quite at odds with one another, and I was very disconcerted by it.

NARRATOR: The pressure on Obama to do something was enormous.

MATT BAI: He could completely distance himself and denounce Reverend Wright and just say, you know, "This stuff is outrageous, I never knew about it, I want nothing to do with it, it has nothing to do with me." Tough thing to do because you've been close to the man for many, many, years and had been in the church.

JANNY SCOTT, The New York Times: His hand is forced to finally really tackle this issue, ironically, so that he's not perceived as an angry black politician an association with the rhetoric of Reverend Wright would suggest.

NARRATOR: Senator Clinton had fumbled an opportunity to attack him on a vulnerable front. But even more remarkably, Obama, the ever-careful planner, had failed to prepare a defense.

CASSANDRA BUTTS: I'm sure that there were conversations about, you know, whether Barack should try to distance himself from Reverend Wright, how to manage it, but there was no plan in place to deal with it.

NARRATOR: It would be left to Obama to figure out how to handle it. After a few days, he decided.

DAVID AXELROD: He said, "I want to do a speech on race. I want to put this in context." And he said, "And I want to do it on Monday or Tuesday." He said, "But I have to be- I have to write it."

NEWSCASTER: Today, Obama promises to tackle the issue of race head on in Pennsylvania-

NEWSCASTER: Race is now officially on the table-

NEWSCASTER: He must get beyond this race debate and soon-

NEWSCASTER: This campaign is calling this speech an important moment-

NEWSCASTER: - major address on race, politics and unifying our country-

NEWSCASTER: What may be the most important speech of his campaign-

NARRATOR: Obama chose the Constitution Center in Philadelphia for the speech.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: [March 18, 2008] Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you.

I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together, understanding that we may have different stories but we hold common hopes.

DAN BALZ: I mean, this is a moment of, you know, sort of maximum peril for a candidate, and his goal was to elevate out of that moment into something broader.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: We've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action.

Rep. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC), House Majority Whip: Jeremiah Wright, God bless him, allowed Barack Obama to confront this issue sooner rather than later, and I think it allowed him to regain the upper hand.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: [March 18, 2008] I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother, a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. These people are part of me and they are part of America, this country that I love.

[ _Analysis: Rev. Wright & the race speech]

NEWSCASTER: This was not your usual Barack Obama event-

NEWSCASTER: The speech was a political necessity-

NEWSCASTER: It was a nuanced take on race relations in this country-

NEWSCASTER: I give Senator Obama a lot of credit-

NEWSCASTER: Barack Obama gave the most expansive and most intensely personal-

NEWSCASTER: One of the most important of his career, that will likely be talked about for the rest of this campaign-

RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I've had it up to here with John McCain-

RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He is confusing Republicans with his liberal friends-

RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The piece of legislation that John McCain became most famous for he co-authored with liberals-

RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He's going to reach out to Democrats and get even with Republicans-

NARRATOR: McCain's team knew he could not win in November without the conservatives, and they weren't happy that he had prevailed.

MATT BAI: You know, all of the talk around the issues McCain has as he cruises towards the nomination is, "How's this guy going to unite his party? What's he going to do?" Rush Limbaugh's out there on the radio every day, telling people they'd be crazy to vote for this guy.

NARRATOR: At the annual meeting of CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, they gathered to mourn the loss of Mitt Romney and to reluctantly hear John McCain plead for their support.

DAN BALZ: I've never seen an instance where somebody in his position, who is the de facto leader of the party heading into the next election, walks into an audience like that and gets the kind of boos that he got. I mean, it was extraordinary to hear it. It's not as though everybody in the audience was booing, but it was loud and it was real.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: [February 7, 2008] It's been a little while since I've had the honor of addressing you, and I appreciate very much your courtesy to me today. You know, we should do this more often.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM: John wanted to make the case that, "Here's who I am on judges. Here's who I am on taxes. I believe in limited government. Here's why I fight earmarking. Earmarking is a corruption of government."

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I believe today, as I believed 25 years ago, in small government, fiscal discipline, low taxes, a strong defense, judges who inform and not make our laws-

MATTHEW DOWD, Political Consultant: It's like the thinnest balance beam that's probably existed because on one side, he's trying to still retain, "I'm the independent, I'm the moderate, I can appeal, I'm the maverick," and on the other side is, "You can trust me. I'm a good Republican."

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I am pro-life and an advocate for the rights of man everywhere in the world. I will never waver in that conviction, I promise you.

DAN BALZ: It was clear that that room was still deeply skeptical about whether they really wanted John McCain as the leader of their party.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Thank you, and God bless you.

DAN BALZ: That day was a reminder that he still had a considerable amount of work to do to make his comfort level with the conservative base of the party real.

NEWT GINGRICH: I think what McCain did, which almost killed him, was he tried to become Mr. Insider and he tried to become Mr. Establishment. And the truth was, it didn't work. I mean, nobody believed it on either side and it made him look kind of foolish. He's not an insider.

NARRATOR: But McCain kept trying. One endorsement really mattered to the Republican faithful, and McCain finally received it.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: After all this bad history, McCain turns up at the White House for the laying on hands from the president, and the two have a hot dog lunch together, you know, at the White House.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [March 5, 2008] It's been my honor to welcome my friend, John McCain, as the nominee of the Republican Party.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: What was interesting about that endorsement was how much that they both stammered about whether or not Bush would campaign with McCain or even appear at his side.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I intend to have as much possible campaigning events together as is in keeping with the president's heavy schedule.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: Bush didn't mince as many words as McCain did.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: If my showing up and endorsing him helps him, or if I'm against him and it helps him- either way, I want him to win.

ELISABETH BUMILLER: As the campaign progressed, I think by June of 2008, McCain and Bush, aside from the endorsement at the White House, had spent about 50 seconds in public together, and that was it.

REPORTER: Mr. President, what do you think of conservatives who don't think that John McCain is one of them? [laughter]

NARRATOR: The president would also give McCain something else. Some of the best talent from his 2004 reelection effort would now be in charge of McCain's campaign.

NEWSCASTER: The Reverend Wright is speaking out louder than ever-

NEWSCASTER: This has been narcissistic, has been destructive for the Obama campaign-

NARRATOR: One month after his speech about race, Barack Obama again had a Jeremiah Wright problem.

Rev. JEREMIAH WRIGHT: [April 28, 2008] We both know that if Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected.

JEFF ZELENY, The New York Times: I was traveling with Senator Obama that day, and the first reaction from Senator Obama was to sort of blame it on Republicans and the media for making so much out of this. He distanced himself a little bit.

Rev. JEREMIAH WRIGHT: He had to distance himself because he's a politician. He said I didn't offer any words of hope. How would he know? He never heard the rest of the sermon. You never heard it.

JEFF ZELENY: Less than 24 hours later, he came out at this press conference. He had this pained look in his eye, you know, and he strongly broke from his pastor.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: [April 29, 2008] It is antithetical to our campaign. It is antithetical to what I am about. It is not what I think America stands for.

DAN BALZ: And I think it took the second appearance of Reverend Wright for it to be much easier for Barack Obama to make the real break.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I'm about and who I am.

Rev. JESSE JACKSON: It was a painful withdrawal for the both of them because here were men who had done a lot together.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: Thank you, guys.

Rev. JESSE JACKSON: And that was a very painful separation.

NARRATOR: But the political damage had been done.

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON: Senator Obama's support among hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again.

NARRATOR: In Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama by 9 points.

TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), Sen. Majority Leader, 2001-'03: The Clintons were very, very formidable. And of all the aspects of their base, there is no stronger part of their base than blue-collar workers.

NARRATOR: Winning that group's support would continue to be a challenge for Obama.

MARK HALPERIN, Co-Author, The Way to Win: For Obama, it's one of the greatest frustrations. You talk to white working-class voters or he listens to his pollsters, and they say, "We don't know if he's authentic. We don't know if he understands us." For Obama, who came from a family of limited means, who believes that he projects an authenticity that's his greatest strength, this is a frustrating thing and one that he'll have to solve with white working-class voters if he's going to be the president of the United States.

NARRATOR: By last June, it was finally over. They'd made peace.

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON: I pledge my support to the next president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: It is good to be back in Springfield!

NARRATOR: When it came time to choose his vice presidential running mate, Obama picked a man with working class roots, a foreign policy expert with years of experience in Washington, 65-year-old Senator Joseph Biden.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: The next vice president, Joe Biden!

PETER BAKER, The New York Times: Obama is this agent of generational change, and he picked a person who couldn't be a bigger creature of Washington, Joe Biden, 36-year senator, white-haired, you know, standing next to him.

Sen. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), Vice Presidential Candidate: I'm here for everyone I grew in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who's been forgotten.

RYAN LIZZA, The New Yorker: The most important decision he's ever had to make in his life, he did not take a huge gamble. It's very much in line with the Barack Obama we know from Chicago, from Harvard Law School, and from his days in the Senate, someone who is at a certain level very cautious, in a sort of old-fashioned sense, a conservative guy.

NARRATOR: John McCain spent the summer behind in the polls and still trying to do something to motivate conservative voters.

RON BROWNSTEIN, Author, The Second Civil War: John McCain is a fighter pilot in the world of politics, who kind of lives by his instincts. And he is not someone who it is easy to chart out a course for and expect him to stay on it.

NARRATOR: McCain made a surprising and bold move.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Governor Sarah Palin of the great state of Alaska!

NARRATOR: Palin, with her fro-life, pro-gun social conservatism, seemed to please the party faithful.

Gov. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), Vice Presidential Candidate: My agenda was to stop wasteful spending and cut property taxes and put the people first!

PETER BAKER: If he wanted to win this race, he had to take a gamble. Sarah Palin was his gamble. He decided that he had to shake up the race with something that would transform the environment, transform the dynamic, and he thought she was his chance to do it.

NARRATOR: And so two very different men are asking the American people for their vote.

MATT BAI, Author, The Argument: Both of them in their essence, both of them in what they convey to voters- one in a long career spanning decades, the other in a lightening flash of a career- both of them convey to voters a sense of breaking with the status quo, a sense of change, a sense that things need to be done differently than they've been done before. And the question I think a lot of voters will have to ask themselves is, "Who's actually going to deliver?"

NARRATOR: The Choice in 2008.

The Choice

Michael Kirk

Michael Kirk &
Paul Stekler

Michael Kirk
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Paul Stekler

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Colette Neirouz

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Tim Mangini

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David Fanning

A FRONTLINE coproduction with the Kirk Documentary Group Ltd.

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© 2008
WGBH Educational Foundation

ANNOUNCER: This report continues on our Web site, where you can watch the program again on line, explore more on the candidates' character, personality, temperament, what has shaped them, decisions they've made, and why their nominations may indicate a history change in American politics, links to in-depth stories, and read what experts say are the leadership qualities essential for a president to succeed. Then join the discussion about this program at

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- If we don't do something about global warming, our children are going to be living on a different planet.

- The thought of green is nice, but when people flip the switch, they want the lights to come on.

- If everybody else was to live like in America, then the planet is doomed.

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posted october 22, 2008

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