Eight years ago, President Barack Obama appeared on Chicago Tonight to debate his opponent, Republican Alan Keyes, in the race for a seat in the U.S. Senate. During the last stretch of this spirited debate, host Phil Ponce asked the candidates whether they’d support eliminating the Electoral College. The exchange was part of a rapid-fire round of questions, and thus Obama’s answer is brief and to the point:
Phil Ponce: Yes or no, eliminate the electoral college? Yes or no?
Barack Obama: Yes.
Phil Ponce: Yes?
Barack Obama: I think at this point this is breaking down.
At a press conference after the show, a reporter asked Obama to expand on these remarks. Watch the web extra video and read his remarks below.
Barack Obama: I think that 2000, and potentially 2004, indicate that we may be seeing a significant breakdown in how well the electoral [system] functions in this modern United States – for a couple reasons. It’s not just that they’re close elections. I don’t think that in and of itself would be enough of a reason to change it. But what I’m concerned about is the fact that elections for the presidency are essentially now run in 11 or 12 states…
States that are predominantly Republican, like Alabama, and states that are predominantly Democratic, like California, basically don’t get a presidential campaign. And I think that, over time, that’s eroding people’s interest and stake in the election. And I’m not sure that, given the national nature of most of the issues being debated at the presidential level, that we still need it.
That doesn’t mean to say that this is my top priority, reversing the Electoral College. It’s just that I think it’s something, especially if we have another gridlock in this election, that people should examine and see if we can improve on. There may be ways, by the way, without constitutional amendment to improve on it: for example, Colorado’s referendum allocating proportionally the electoral votes, may be a solution, short of a constitutional amendment, that makes all states fair game in the election process.
The above clip is pulled from our archives. Though returns have yet to be counted, most analysts and pollsters agree that the president is much more likely to cross the threshold of 270 electoral votes than win the popular vote. At the end of this race, the Electoral College may prove the president’s best ally.
On a more basic level, the clip also highlights Barack Obama’s meteoric rise – from state lawmaker to senator to grey-haired president – in the span of just eight years. Can we imagine those words coming out of the president’s mouth today?