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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Obama Debating Before He Was Famous

By: inoljt,

Before Barack Obama was president of the United States, he famously lost a congressional primary against Congressman Bobby Rush. In this race, as in many other races, there was a televised debate between the primary candidates (Obama, Rush, and another State Senator Donne Trotter). Very few people probably watched it.

Nevertheless, the debate is still on Youtube. It provides some interesting insight into the president during the beginning of his political career.

Here is part one.

Here is part two.

More below.

There are some interesting things about this set of videos, and here is my set of observations.

Firstly, the debate is quite laid-back. It sounds a bit like one of those informal local community meetings, with a number of local issues unfamiliar to outsiders. The district Rush represents is one of the most left-wing and poorest areas in the United States. However, it didn’t really seem to make the debate different from a debate in any other congressional district.

In terms of the debate, to me Rush did the worst. He seems to have the type of demeanor of a person who has had power for a long time and is used to it. This is a contenance many politicians have. In addition, Rush’s flow of speaking is the worst; he pauses a lot and seems to have difficulty making his points. I have heard that Rush has a stuttering problem which he spent a lot of time trying to fix. That may be the reason for Rush’s difficulties in the debate.

Coming into the race, Rush had just suffered a major political defeat. He had ran for mayor of Chicago and lost badly. This was in fact the impetus for Obama’s challenge to Rush. During the debate, he’s asked about this in 8:10 of the second video. Of course, Rush states that “I believe that I was strengthened” by his run.

Obama’s style is fairly similar to his style today. There’s not much difference. One very noticeable thing, however, is Obama’s skin color. It’s conspicuously lighter than Rush’s skin color and seems also to be slightly lighter than Trotter’s.

Finally, Trotter debates quite well. One wonders why it was Obama rather than Trotter who ended up getting gathering up most of the opposition against Rush. Perhaps Trotter had trouble raising money, which Obama did quite well in.

All in all, this is a very educative and interesting couple of videos. It’s a shame, judging by the number of viewers, that so few people have watched them.


  1. It is not surprising that the “winner” of the debate was less important than the power of the incumbency. Running against any incumbent is an uphill battle. There is a loyalty that often defies explanation.

    I also think that calling and spinning the winners and losers of debates (and their importance) has become more important than the debates themselves. Who can forget the moment when Obama lost the election, right after the Denver debate? Oh, wait! He did not lose the election. Funny, that.

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