Haynes Johnson and Dan Balz
Haynes Johnson and Dan Balz

Inside Media: "The Battle for America 2008"

August 08, 2009

Guests: Haynes Johnson and Dan Balz

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

The 2008 presidential election had the makings of a political soap opera.

"It had twists and turns, plot changes, characters and cleavage. It was an almost Shakespearean climate between the candidates," said Haynes Johnson.

Johnson and Dan Balz, longtime political reporters for The Washington Post, attempted to capture the high-stakes melodrama in their book "The Battle for America 2008."

Having covered politics for decades, the two found the dynamics of the 2008 race particularly appealing.

Issues ranged from the weakening economy to the Iraq War, and while the Republicans searched for the "spirit of Reagan," the most unlikely of candidates surfaced on the Democrat ticket — a black freshman senator from Chicago.

"The stage was set for amazing conflict," Johnson said. He described Hillary Clinton as the inevitable candidate. "She had the background. She had the money. She couldn’t lose."

But Obama had to face a number of issues. As a black candidate, "could he overcome the prejudices that existed?" said Johnson. "He had to persuade people that he was presidential and fair across the board."

Johnson and Balz, who first met about the book in 2007, were determined to tell the campaign story through the voters’ eyes, rather than the candidates’. To that end, they spent time observing several focus groups. As Balz put it: "It was our way to tap into the state of the nation."

When asked about the election coverage, Balz joked: "The media did a fantastic job," then added, "no press coverage of a campaign is perfect by any means, but on balance, this one was pretty good."

Johnson pointed out that Obama got favorable press in the beginning, but so did the Kennedys and Richard Nixon during his second run for the presidency. Regardless, "the press did not elect Obama," he said.

Johnson and Balz signed copies of their book following the program.

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