With the Presidential election eight days away, the focus on who will be the 45th President of the United States is the biggest topic in the nation. Eight years ago, the United States faced a similar question over who would be the 44th President, which would be Barack Obama.
Obama sits with an aggregate approval rating in the low-to-mid fifties as he finishes out his term.
“Like a lot of outgoing Presidents, his popularity is higher as you leave then when he was in office,” Carol Marin, a DePaul journalism professor who covered politics for the Chicago Sun-Times since 2004 said. “Because voters are now trying to figure who they don’t like for the next ballot they’re going to take.”
Marin saw the rise of Obama’s political career from a media perspective when he first became a United States Senator in 2004.
“It’s interesting, he was fairly guarded as a candidate,” she said. “He wasn’t somebody who did a lot of press conferences, sort of chit chat. He was issue oriented for sure.
It was in 2004 that Obama became a star in the Democratic Party. He ran for the United States Senate in 2004 and won in a highly contested primary to become the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Illinois. His eloquence and speaking ability earned him a keynote spot at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Dr. Wayne Steger, a professor of political science at DePaul, said this turned him into a “rock star.”
“Within six months he went from being a state senator to being the Democratic nominee to being a Senator and a nationally known figure,” Steger said. “And he continued to do that through his years in the Senate.”
“Through the whole fall, he’s being invited to do fundraisers and speak and campaign for candidates all over the country.”
Obama won the Senate seat in 2004 and it would not be long before he would run for the Presidency. He announced his candidacy in February of 2007.
“He was a long shot,” Steger said. “He had some really talented people running his campaign who had experience running Iowa. He had a tremendous organization and Hillary Clinton, by and large, was ignoring the caucuses.”
However, there were still some people who did think he had the stars aligned to win the Presidency.
“I did,” Marin said. “There were certainly people who didn’t, but I thought he did. If you’re going to run for President, you need extraordinary talent, you need excellent timing and you need a lot of luck. He had all of the above.”
Obama would go on to win the Presidency and then reelection in 2012 to serve two full terms in the nation’s highest office. With the next President only a couple of months away from taking office, it’s difficult to determine a lasting legacy for President Obama, but his achievements in office will be what defines his legacy.
“Healthcare will be his signature, absolutely his signature,” Steger said. “He put a lot of political capital in the Affordable Care Act.”
It’s also possible to see how President Obama operated in the White House from a political operative perspective. Marin said that when he came to Washington, he underestimated the complexities of the divisions.
“He wasn’t a Lyndon Johnson, he wasn’t a Bill Clinton,” she said. “He is intellectual, aloof and detached in significant ways. You can argue those are his strengths, but those are also his weaknesses in trying to create alliances with the other side.”
Steger said that the next President will play a role in shaping Obama’s legacy. He said a Republican President would attempt to limit or repeal some of Obama’s policies in office, but a Democratic President would continue Obama’s policies.
“If it’s Hillary Clinton, she’ll basically protect Obamacare,” he said. “So he has a serious stake in continuing. I think a lot of other policies will continue, foreign policy, economic, fiscal policies.”
As for a local legacy, Chicago will be home to the Obama Presidential Center, which is being built in Jackson Park on the South Side.
“The fact that the Obama library is here is a big deal for people,” Marin said. “There aren’t many cities that can claim a President. So it’s considered a plus from a civic standpoint, from development on the South Side, all of those things are considered good things.”
And Obama will forever be tied to Chicago, and Chicago tied to Obama.
“When you say Chicago, among the things you say besides Michael Jordan and Al Capone is President Obama,” Marin said.