A bit of history: How Obama won his first election with a petition challenge. Saul Alinsky Politics from Day One !!!
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Obama won almost all of his electoral victories through technicalities, getting opponents thrown out or forced to withdraw for one reason or another.
Back in 1996, Barack Obama won his first election by knocking his opponents off the ballot with petitition challenges. He took not one, but four opponents off the ballot. He ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
The method he used was to allege that his opponents had an insufficient number of valid signatures, primarily because many of the people who signed his opponent’s petitions weren’t registered to vote. This is exactly the problem with Obama’s current petitions. There are large numbers of signatures from people who aren’t registered to vote.
The Illinois Senate career of Barack Obama began in with the 1997 swearing in of Obama to his first term in the Illinois Senate and ended with his 2004 election to the United States Senate. During this part of his career, Obama continued teaching constitutional law part-time at the University of Chicago Law School as he had done as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996 and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996–2008.
In 1994, Senator Alice Palmer announced her desire to run for the United States House of Representatives, leaving the Senate's 13th district seat open. When filing opened in 1995 for her seat, Obama entered the race. Eventually, his challengers were disqualified and he won the Democratic primary unopposed in 1996. He won re-election in 1998 and 2002. During his Senate tenure, Obama was involved with a wide range of legislation. While serving, he ran unsuccessfully for the United States House of Representatives in the 2000 elections. In the redistricting following 2000 Census, the Democrats gained control of the Illinois Senate, and Obama became more active in his legislation, which included work in areas such as health care, labor, law enforcement, campaign finance reform, welfare, and community reinvestment.
First state Senate election, 1996
On November 21, 1994, Senator Alice Palmer, a Democrat of Chicago's South Shore neighborhood announced she was launching a campaign committee to raise funds to run in 1996 for the 2nd congressional district seat of indicted U.S. Representative Mel Reynolds, and suggested that 29-year-old Jesse Jackson, Jr. run for her 13th district Illinois Senate seat in 1996 instead of running against her for Congress.
On June 27, 1995, Palmer announced she was running for Congress and would be giving up her Senate seat instead of running for re-election in 1996. The following week, newspapers reported that Palmer-supporter Barack Obama of Hyde Park—who had been announced as chairman of the $49.2 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge on June 22 and whose memoir Dreams from My Father would be published on July 18—would announce he was running for Palmer's 13th district seat, which was then a T-shaped district that spanned Chicago South Side neighborhoods from Hyde Park-Kenwood south through South Shore and from the lakefront west through Chicago Lawn.
On September 11, 1995, Governor Jim Edgar set November 28 as the date for a special primary election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Mel Reynolds following his August 1995 conviction. On September 19, Obama announced his Illinois Senate candidacy to an audience of 200 supporters at the Ramada Inn Lakeshore in Hyde Park-Kenwood. Palmer introduced and endorsed Obama as her successor to supporters that included 4th Ward Alderwoman Toni Preckwinkle of Hyde Park, newly elected 5th Ward Alderwoman Barbara Holt of Hyde Park, and state Representative Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) of Hyde Park.
On November 7, 1995, Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, died of metastatic uterine cancer at the age of 52 in Honolulu. Obama arrived in Hawaii the following day, remained for his mother's memorial service and returned to Chicago soon after. On November 28, after finishing a distant third in the special congressional primary election won by Jesse Jackson, Jr., a disappointed Palmer announced she wouldn't seek re-election and was undecided about again challenging Jackson in the March 1996 primary.
On December 11, 1995—the first filing day for nominating petitions—Obama filed his nominating petitions with more than 3,000 signatures; perennial unsuccessful candidate Ulmer Lynch, Jr., also filed nominating petitions. On December 18—the last filing day for nominating petitions—Palmer held a press conference to announce she was running for re-election to the Senate, accepting a draft by more than 100 supporters. Palmer then drove to Springfield to file her nominating petitions; also filing nominating petitions on the last filing day were first-time candidates Gha-is Askia and Marc Ewell. On December 26, Obama campaign volunteer Ron Davis filed objections to the legitimacy of the nominating petitions of Senator Palmer, Askia, Ewell and Lynch.
On January 17, 1996, Palmer announced she was withdrawing her bid for re-election because she was around 200 signatures short of the 757 needed to earn a place on the ballot after almost two-thirds of the 1,580 signatures on her nominating petitions were found to be invalid. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners had previously sustained an objection to the nominating petitions of Lynch because of insufficient valid signatures and subsequently also sustained objections to the nominating petitions of Askia and Ewell because of insufficient valid signatures.
Obama therefore won the Democratic nomination unopposed. On November 5, Obama was won the race for the 13th Senate district, with 82 percent of the vote; perennial unsuccessful Harold Washington Party candidate David Whitehead (13%) and first-time Republican Party candidate Rosette Caldwell Peyton (5%) also ran.
Second state Senate election, 1998
Obama was up for reelection in 1998; Illinois state senators serve one two-year term and two four-year terms each decade. In the March 17 primary, Obama won re-nomination unopposed, and first-time candidate Yesse Yehudah won the Republican nomination unopposed. At the November 3 general election, Obama was re-elected to a four-year term as state senator for the 13th district with 89% of the vote; Yehudah received 11% of the vote.
Third state Senate election, 2002
Obama won both the March 19 Democratic primary election and November 5, 2002 general election for the newly configured 13th district unopposed.
Early Senate career
On January 8, 1997, Obama was sworn in as senator. Early in his first term, the just-retired U.S. Senator Paul Simon contacted longtime Obama mentor, judge and former congressman Abner Mikva suggesting that Mikva recommend Obama to Emil Jones, Jr., the powerful Democratic leader of the state Senate. "Say, our friend Barack Obama has a chance to push this campaign finance bill through," Simon said in a telephone conversation, as recounted by Mikva in a 2008 interview, "Why don’t you call your friend Emil Jones and tell him how good he is." With Jones' support, Obama helped shepherd through a sweeping law that banned most gifts from lobbyists and personal use of campaign funds by state legislators.
During his first years as a state senator, Obama was a co-sponsor of a bill that re-structured the Illinois welfare program into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. He also helped get various pieces of legislation that established a $100 million Earned Income Tax Credit for working families, increased child care subsidies for low-income families, and required advance notice before mass layoffs and plant closings passed.
Campaign for Bobby Rush's congressional seat
In September 1999, Obama and fellow Senator Donne Trotter (neither faced re-election that year) both announced their candidacies for the March 2000 Democratic primary election for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by four-term incumbent candidate Bobby Rush. Rush had been badly defeated in the February 1999 Chicago mayoral election by Richard M. Daley—who won 45 percent of the African-American vote and even won Rush's own ward—and was thought to be vulnerable. The support of some veteran Democratic fundraisers who saw Obama as a rising star, along with support of African-American entrepreneurs, helped him keep pace with Rush's fundraising in the district's most expensive race ever.
During the campaign, Rush charged that Obama was not sufficiently rooted in Chicago's black neighborhoods to represent constituents' concerns, and also benefitted from an outpouring of sympathy when his son was shot to death shortly before the election. Obama said Rush was a part of "a politics that is rooted in the past" and said he himself could build bridges with whites to get things done. But while Obama did well in his own Hyde Park base, he didn't get enough support from the surrounding black neighborhoods. Starting with just 10 percent name recognition, Obama went on to get only 31 percent of the votes, losing by a more than 2-to-1 margin despite winning among white voters.
Later Senate career
After losing the primary for U.S. Congress to Bobby Rush, Obama worked to repair relations with black politicians and clergy members, telling them he bore no grudges against the victor. He also became more responsive to requests for state funding, getting money for churches and community groups in his district. Senator Trotter, then the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in 2008 that he knew Obama was responding more to funding requests "because the community groups in his district stopped coming to me".
In September 2001, Democrats won a lottery to redraw legislative districts that had been drawn ten years earlier by Republicans and had helped ensure ten uninterrupted years of Republican control of the Illinois Senate. At the November 2002 election, the Democratic remap helped them win control of the Illinois Senate and expand their majority in the Illinois House to work with the first Democratic Illinois governor in 26 years. In January 2003, Obama became chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, after six years on the committee and four years as its minority spokesman. The new Democratic majority allowed Obama to write and help pass more legislation than in previous years. He sponsored successful efforts to expand children's health care, create a plan to provide equal health care access for all Illinois residents, and create a "Hospital Report Card" system, and worker's rights laws that protected whistleblowers, domestic violence victims, equal pay for women, and overtime pay. His most public accomplishment was a bill requiring police to videotape interrogations and confessions in potential death penalty cases. Obama was willing to listen to Republicans and police organizations and negotiate compromises to get the law passed. That helped him develop a reputation as a pragmatist able to work with various sides of an issue. Obama also led the passage of a law to monitor racial profiling by requiring police to record the race of drivers they stopped.
There they began the tedious process of challenging hundreds of signatures on the nominating petitions of state Sen. Alice Palmer, the longtime progressive activist from the city's South Side. And they kept challenging petitions until every one of Obama's four Democratic primary rivals was forced off the ballot.
Fresh from his work as a civil rights lawyer and head of a voter registration project that expanded access to the ballot box, Obama launched his first campaign for the Illinois Senate saying he wanted to empower disenfranchised citizens.
But in that initial bid for political office, Obama quickly mastered the bare-knuckle arts of Chicago electoral politics. His overwhelming legal onslaught signaled his impatience to gain office, even if that meant elbowing aside an elder stateswoman like Palmer.
A close examination of Obama's first campaign clouds the image he has cultivated throughout his political career: The man now running for president on a message of giving a voice to the voiceless first entered public office not by leveling the playing field, but by clearing it.
One of the candidates he eliminated, long-shot contender Gha-is Askia, now says that Obama's petition challenges belied his image as a champion of the little guy and crusader for voter rights.
"Why say you're for a new tomorrow, then do old-style Chicago politics to remove legitimate candidates?" Askia said. "He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free? Why not let the people decide?"
In a recent interview, Obama granted that "there's a legitimate argument to be made that you shouldn't create barriers to people getting on the ballot."
But the unsparing legal tactics were justified, he said, by obvious flaws in his opponents' signature sheets. "To my mind, we were just abiding by the rules that had been set up," Obama recalled.
"I gave some thought to … should people be on the ballot even if they didn't meet the requirements," he said. "My conclusion was that if you couldn't run a successful petition drive, then that raised questions in terms of how effective a representative you were going to be."
Asked whether the district's primary voters were well-served by having only one candidate, Obama smiled and said: "I think they ended up with a very good state senator."
Obama behind challengesAmerica has been defined in part by civil rights and good government battles fought out in Chicago's 13th District, which in 1996 spanned Hyde Park mansions, South Shore bungalows and poverty-bitten precincts of Englewood.
It was in this part of the city that an eager reform Democrat by the name of Abner Mikva first entered elected office in the 1950s. And here a young, brash minister named Jesse Jackson ran Operation Breadbasket, leading marchers who sought to pressure grocery chains to hire minorities.
Palmer served the district in the Illinois Senate for much of the 1990s. Decades earlier, she was working as a community organizer in the area when Obama was growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia. She risked her safe seat to run for Congress and touted Obama as a suitable successor, according to news accounts and interviews.
But when Palmer got clobbered in that November 1995 special congressional race, her supporters asked Obama to fold his campaign so she could easily retain her state Senate seat.
Obama not only refused to step aside, he filed challenges that nullified Palmer's hastily gathered nominating petitions, forcing her to withdraw.
"I liked Alice Palmer a lot. I thought she was a good public servant," Obama said. "It was very awkward. That part of it I wish had played out entirely differently."
His choice divided veteran Chicago political activists.
"There was friction about the decision he made," said City Colleges of Chicago professor emeritus Timuel Black, who tried to negotiate with Obama on Palmer's behalf. "There were deep disagreements."
Had Palmer survived the petition challenge, Obama would have faced the daunting task of taking on an incumbent senator. Palmer's elimination marked the first of several fortuitous political moments in Obama's electoral success: He won the 2004 primary and general elections for U.S. Senate after tough challengers imploded when their messy divorce files were unsealed.
Obama contended that in the case of the 1996 race, in which he routed token opposition in the general election, he was ready to compete in the primary if necessary.
"We actually ran a terrific campaign up until the point we knew that we weren't going to have to appear on the ballot with anybody," Obama said. "I mean, we had prepared for it. We had raised money. We had tons of volunteers. There was enormous enthusiasm."
And he defended his use of ballot maneuvers: "If you can win, you should win and get to work doing the people's business."
At the time, though, Obama seemed less at ease with the decision, according to aides. They said the first-time candidate initially expressed reservations about using challenges to eliminate all his fellow Democrats.
"He wondered if we should knock everybody off the ballot. How would that look?" said Ronald Davis, the paid Obama campaign consultant whom Obama referred to as his "guru of petitions."
In the end, Davis filed objections to all four of Obama's Democratic rivals at the candidate's behest.
While Obama didn't attend the hearings, "he wanted us to call him every night and let him know what we were doing," Davis said, noting that Palmer and the others seemed unprepared for the challenges.
But Obama didn't gloat over the victories. "I don't think he thought it was, you know, sporting," said Will Burns, a 1996 Obama campaign volunteer who assisted with the petition challenges. "He wasn't very proud of it."
Endorsement or informal nod?By the summer of 1995, Obama, 34, had completed his globe-trotting education and settled deep into Chicago's South Side.
He had gone to Harvard Law School with private ambitions of someday following Harold Washington as mayor of Chicago. At Harvard, where Obama was celebrated as the first black president of the Law Review, classmate Gina Torielli remembers him "saying that governor of Illinois would be his dream job."
Back in Chicago after graduation, Obama won respect for running Project Vote, which registered tens of thousands of black Chicagoans. "It's a power thing," the volunteers' T-shirts said.
Community organizers packed his wedding to Michelle Robinson, a South Shore resident and fellow Harvard Law graduate. The newlyweds bought a Hyde Park condo.
His memoir, "Dreams from My Father," was published that summer to warm reviews. He was working at a small but influential legal firm, teaching constitutional law as a University of Chicago adjunct professor and sitting on the boards of charities.
At the same time, the South Side's political map was thrown up for grabs when then-U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds was convicted of sex crimes and a special election was called to fill his congressional seat.
Palmer joined the race and, according to multiple accounts, introduced Obama as the successor for her Illinois Senate seat.
"She said, 'I found this wonderful person, this fine young man, so we needn't worry that we'd have a good state senator,' " said former 5th Ward Democratic committeeman Alan Dobry, who volunteered to help both Palmer and Obama that year.
In recent interviews, Obama and Palmer agreed that he asked her whether she wanted to keep her options open and file to run for her state Senate seat as a fallback in case her congressional bid failed.
Obama says he told her: "We haven't started the campaign yet."
"I hadn't publicly announced," he said. "But what I said was that once I announce, and I have started to raise money, and gather supporters, hire staff and opened up an office, signed a lease, then it's going to be very difficult for me to step down. And she gave me repeated assurances that she was in [the congressional race] to stay."
Obama "did say that to me," Palmer says now. "And I certainly did say that I wasn't going to run. There's no question about that."
But beyond that, the private discussions they held in 1995 are shrouded today in disputed and hazy memories.
Obama said Palmer gave him her formal endorsement. "I'm absolutely certain she … publicly spoke and sort of designated me," he recalled.
Palmer disputes that. "I don't know that I like the word 'endorsement,' " she said. "An endorsement to me, having been in legislative politics … that's a very formal kind of thing. I don't think that describes this. An 'informal nod' is how to characterize it."
In July 1995, Obama announced he was planning to run for Palmer's seat. He filed papers creating his fundraising committee a month later and officially announced his candidacy in September.
He emerged that winter as a gifted campaigner who after finishing hectic workdays would layer on thermal underwear to knock on South Side doors.
In impromptu street-corner conversations and media interviews, he disparaged local pols for putting self-preservation ahead of public service. At the last house on a dark block, "he would start a discussion that should have taken five minutes and pretty soon someone was cooking him dinner," said paid campaign consultant Carol Anne Harwell.
Then Palmer's congressional bid collapsed. On Nov. 28, 1995, she placed a distant third behind political powerhouses Jesse Jackson Jr., who holds that congressional seat today, and current state Senate President Emil Jones Jr.
Palmer didn't fade quietly away. Citing an "outpouring" of support, she upended the political landscape by switching gears and deciding to run in the March 1996 primary for her state Senate seat.
But she had two big problems. To get on the ballot, Palmer needed to file nominating petitions signed by at least 757 district voters—and the Dec. 18 deadline was just days away.
And then there was Obama, the bright up-and-comer she had all but anointed.
Obama's aides said he seemed anguished over the prospect of defying Palmer. "I really saw turmoil in his face," Harwell said.
Obama sought advice from political veterans such as 4th Ward Ald. Toni Preckwinkle and then-15th Ward Ald. Virgil Jones, who say they urged him to hold his course.
"I thought the world of Alice Palmer," said state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), now the House majority leader. But "at that point she had pulled her own plug."
According to Palmer, it was without her knowledge that her supporters initiated discussions to persuade Obama to step aside. They invited him to the home of state Rep. Lovana "Lou" Jones, now deceased. Obama arrived alone.
"It was a brief meeting," said Black, a Palmer friend who had advised Obama when he was a young community organizer in the mid-1980s.
Obama didn't try to justify his decision to reject Palmer's plea, Black said.
"He did not put it in inflammatory terms, he just did not back away. It was not arguments, it was stubbornness," Black said. "Barack had by then gone ahead in putting together his own campaign, and he just didn't want to stop."
'If you can get 'em, get 'em'Just in time for the Dec. 18, 1995, filing deadline, Palmer submitted 1,580 signatures—about twice the minimum required. That day, Obama lashed out at her, telling the Tribune she had pressured him to withdraw.
"I am disappointed that she's decided to go back on her word to me," he said.
Obama campaign aides also responded that day—but quietly, and out of the limelight.
Davis and Dobry marshaled volunteers and began poring through the nominating petitions of Palmer and the three lesser-known Democrats, according to interviews.
"We looked at those petitions and found that none of them met the requirements of the law," Dobry said. "Alice's people, they'd done it in a great hurry. Almost all her petitions were signed a day or so before the deadline."
According to Davis, Palmer "had kids gathering the names. I remember two of her circulators, Pookie and Squirt."
Davis and others urged Obama to file legal challenges.
Such tactics are legal and frequently used in Chicago. Ballot challenges eliminated 67 of the 245 declared aldermanic candidates in Chicago before this past February's elections, an election board spokesman said.
Davis recalled telling Obama: "If you can get 'em, get 'em. Why give 'em a break?
"I said, 'Barack, I'm going to knock them all off.'
"He said, 'What do you need?'
"I said, 'I need an attorney.'
"He said, 'Who is the best?'
"I said, 'Tom Johnson.' "
Obama already knew civil rights attorney and fellow Harvard Law graduate Thomas Johnson, who had waged election cases for the late Mayor Washington and had offered Obama informal legal advice since the days of Project Vote.
With Johnson's legal help, Obama's team was confident. They piled binders of polling sheets in the election board office on the second floor of City Hall, and on Jan. 2, 1996, began the days-long hearings that would eliminate the other Democrats.
Little-known candidate Marc Ewell filed 1,286 names, but Obama's objections left him 86 short of the minimum, and election officials struck him from the ballot, records show. Ewell filed a federal lawsuit contesting the board's decision, but Johnson intervened on Obama's behalf and prevailed when Ewell's case was dismissed days later.
Ewell could not be reached for comment, but the federal judge's decision showed how he was tripped up by complexities in the election procedures.
City authorities had just completed a massive, routine purge of unqualified names that eliminated 15,871 people from the 13th District rolls, court records show.
Ewell and other Obama rivals had relied on early 1995 polling sheets to verify the signatures of registered voters—but Obama's challenges were decided at least in part using the most recent, accurate list, records show.
Askia filed 1,899 signatures, but the Obama team sustained objections to 1,211, leaving him 69 short, records show.
Leafing through scrapbooks in his South Shore apartment, Askia, a perennially unsuccessful candidate, acknowledges that he paid Democratic Party precinct workers $5 a sheet for some of the petitions, and now suspects they used a classic Chicago ruse of passing the papers among themselves to forge the signatures. "They round-tabled me," Askia said.
Palmer to this day does not concede the flaws that Obama's team found in her signatures. She maintains that she could have overcome the Obama team's objections and stayed on the ballot if she had more time and resources.
It was wrenching to withdraw, she said. "But sit for a moment, catch your breath, get up and keep going. I'm a very practical person. Politics is not the only vehicle for accomplishing things." She became a special assistant to the president of the University of Illinois and is now retired.
Obama said he has not been in touch with Palmer since 1996. "No, not really, no," he said.
Though she hasn't determined whom to support in the presidential race, Palmer, 67, said her dispute with Obama doesn't affect her assessment of his fitness to hold office.
Saying that jobless high school dropouts "are sitting on the steps next to my house," Palmer added: "There is a savage economy going on out here, and we've got collateral damage. I am looking closely to see who has the courage, the smarts."