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The man who told Barack Obama he had won the presidency

Lars Gesing, CU News Corps Assistant Director

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Logo final_highIn our Anecdotal Evidence column, movers and shakers share personal stories of how intriguing (and often odd) campaigning in their respective swing state can be.

Steve Schale – Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign director

Steve Schale. Photo: Lars Gesing/CU News Corps

Steve Schale. Photo: Lars Gesing/CU News Corps

“In 2008 the Obama team agreed to start the last full campaign day in Florida. We went to Jacksonville. It was the morning when he found out his grandmother had passed away. Barack Obama gave probably one of the two or three worst speeches of his life. He forgot what county he was in, he was just reading off the teleprompter.

“Every day for the last 13 days of the campaign, we would get a daily update of how we were doing with the early votes. The morning of the last day, we got the final update of all the people who had voted. In terms of Republicans versus Democrats, we were ahead by about 400,000 Democrats, which was a larger margin than John Kerry lost Florida by. So basically, we had won. Unless something weird was going on, we had won. And if we had won Florida, then we had won.

“Every day I would email these numbers to Robert Gibbs, who was then the campaign press secretary, so he could talk to the reporters. That last day I told Gibbs, and he came up to me right after the event. Obama was walking around backstage like he had been hit with a frying pan. Gibbs goes, ‘Hey man, why don’t you cheer him up? Why don’t you tell him what you told me?’

“So we go back into this little room. I give Obama my phone and try to explain to him these numbers. He asked, ‘What does that mean?’ I told him it means we had won Florida. David Axelrod was in the room, and he said something like, ‘We won!’

“We walk out of the room, and Obama went, ‘You did a good job. Don’t screw it up!’

“That whole campaign, I never thought we were going to lose. I was convinced we had a good plan, a good staff. It was the only campaign I ever worked on where the plan we wrote literally played out exactly like we thought it would. I never doubted we were going to win even though we were down four or five points at one time.

“But after that, I felt so nervous I couldn’t talk. I just told this guy we had won Florida and that he is probably going to be president. I thought, ‘What if I screw this up? What if I was wrong?’ They threw me out of the war room on Election Day. I was a wreck. I was pacing in the parking lot of the hotel where our victory party was, thinking ‘Oh my God? What if we lose? He is always going to remember this guy who told him we were going to win.'”

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Explanatory Multimedia Reporting from CU Boulder Journalism Students
The man who told Barack Obama he had won the presidency