Experience is an overrated commodity in presidential politics, but typically at least one of the two major parties nominates someone with long-standing ties to Washington and backing from the party establishment. However, in 2008 the first year since 1928 in which neither an incumbent President nor Vice President ran for the top slot the die was effectively cast before the general-election process began.
On the Republican side, Dick Cheney's resolve not to compete left the GOP without an eminent leader waiting for his turn. McCain, who in 2004 was so alienated from his party that he flirted with becoming John Kerry's running mate, found himself the default front runner, even though many members of the party's core constituencies Big Business, religious conservatives, Bush loyalists had disdain for his politics and persona. Although McCain made moves to curry favor with these groups, he never became the kind of Establishment insider the party embraces as a nominee. But none of his chief rivals Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson were aggressive or well organized enough to take the crown away from him.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was the anticipated front runner for more than a year before the primaries and caucuses began. But Obama's charisma, combined with concern about Clinton fatigue, allowed the young Senator to parlay early success into a role reversal in which he became the choice of party elders such as Ted Kennedy and labor-union leaders. Clinton was forced into the role of underdog.
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