The decision to bid farewell to the campaign trail with a nighttime appearance in Des Moines’s historic East Village was as symbolic as it was strategic.
Obama is expected to have spent more than $1 billion on his campaign for reelection. He held 101 rallies. His final day included events in Madison, Wis., and Columbus, Ohio.
But the president has a special fondness for Iowa, where he upset Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic caucuses in January 2008. First lady Michelle Obama and rock icon Bruce Springsteen joined him Monday as he made his last appeal to voters outside the one-story brick building on Locust Street that housed his first field office for the 2008 campaign. It is now a church.
Obama took the stage at 10 p.m., embracing his wife. He told the crowd of 20,000, lined up in the cold for blocks: “I’ve come back to Iowa one more time to ask for your vote. To ask for you to help us finish what we started, because this is where our movement for change began. Right here.”
As Election Day drew near, Obama and his team of longtime advisers grew increasingly nostalgic. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki appeared at a rally in Cincinnati sporting a faded black Obama ’08 baseball cap. Campaign adviser David Axelrod and White House adviser David Plouffe, also traveling with Obama, were wearing matching black Obama ’08 fleece pullovers Monday. And White House speechwriters Jon Favreau and Ben Rhodes, who stumped with him four years ago, let their facial hair grow, vowing to shave only after the president had won his final campaign.
Aides said Obama, too, has reflected on the moment and how far he has come — win or lose.
The president is “well aware this is his last campaign,” Axelrod said. As Obama took the stage before 18,000 in Madison, the senior adviser added: “I just said to the president this is like the end of a long-running series, and all the characters are coming back to be here. This has been a special journey.”
Old friends Martin Nesbitt and Michael Ramos have traveled with the president this week on Air Force One. Robert Gibbs, Obama’s former campaign and White House spokesman, was with him on the final day. So was Reggie Love, the president’s personal aide during the 2008 campaign and the first three years of his term.
“Nobody gave us a chance to win the nomination,” Plouffe said, reflecting on the first campaign. Monday night was “profoundly emotional.”
Gibbs, now a private communications consultant advising the campaign, recalled the early days in 2007 when he forced Obama, then a senator from Illinois, to make 30 calls a day to Iowa officials, including high school student organizers. One girl told Obama, who was calling from an airplane, that she was too busy in yearbook class and would call him back.