The Meltdown: Four Years Ago Today

When Outside Events Crowd The Campaign Trail

It was early Monday morning, September 15.  During my slow walk to work through the backstreets of Chicago, I carefully replayed a conversation in my head from six months before with my close colleague and the campaign's CFO, Marianne Markowitz.  Back then, in March, Marianne had been reacting to reports that renowned investment bank Bear Stearns was failing.

"This is bad news, Henry," Marianne exclaimed when she arrived at work.  "It's a really big deal," she added, shaking her head for emphasis.

 The budding crisis sparked immediate fears about the state of the economy that I knew would ultimately catch up to us on the campaign trail.  In fact, a noticeable shift in the electoral climate did surface over the coming weeks.  Where voters had long been consumed with matters of war and national security during 2007, by the summer of 2008 the nation's attention had become firmlly focused on the fragile economy.  

This was never more evident than during a moment in late August, when John McCain came under fire for his bungled response to a reporter’s inquiry of how many homes he and his wife owned.  "I'll have my staff get to you," he replied.  

We had the answer.  It was seven.  That became the title of an ad we subsequently released portraying the Arizona senator as badly out of touch with the worries of everyday Americans.  The whole episode was a black eye for the McCain campaign.

Now, on the morning of Monday, September 15, the nation was once again gripped by grim reports surfacing from Wall Street.  This time all eyes were on Lehman Brothers, as news swirled that the investment banking giant would be seeking bankruptcy protection later in the day.  Speculation had been rampant all weekend over the prospect of a market collapse behind what would be the largest Chapter 11 filing in U.S. history.  

As the nation approached the precipice, the campaigns faced a defining moment in the election.

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