Take a look back at then-Senator Obama’s Iowa caucus victory, 15 years later.
On January 3, 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses—a historic victory that shocked the political establishment and ultimately set him on the road to the White House. Recently, President Obama sat down with six former organizers to reflect on the experience and how they’ve continued to make change in the 15 years since. Take a look:
For President Obama, January 3, 2008 remains his favorite night of his entire political career—not just because his campaign was victorious, but because seeing so many people coming out and taking part in deciding who would represent them for the first time validated his most fundamental beliefs about democracy.
Nathan Blake, Ann Dailey, Million Fikre, James Schuelke, Kiana Scott, and Shannon Valley were just six of the young people who got involved early in the campaign. Today, they are still making their communities stronger through public service, military service, non-profit work, and more.
During their conversation with President Obama, they talked about lessons learned from their experience in 2007 that they still carry with them, and they got a first look at some of the artifacts from Iowa that will be part of the Obama Presidential Center’s Museum collection.
This red t-shirt, which reads “I’m Fired Up” on the front, and “He’s Ready to Go” on the back, was given out to thousands of Obama supporters the night of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in November 2007. After receiving the shirt, supporters from each of Iowa’s 99 counties marched with then-Senator and Mrs. Obama through the streets of Des Moines and into the dinner, where reception to his speech proved to be a pivotal moment in the campaign. For the former organizers, the shirt and the dinner spoke to the feeling of comradery they felt seeing so many other supporters from across the state come together in one place for the first time, and the evidence that they weren’t alone in their work.
This “Ask Me About Barack” sticker was often worn by volunteers and staff in 2007 as a way of starting conversations with community members. For much of that year then-Senator Obama was down in the polls by sometimes as much as 30 points—as many potential caucus goers did not know who he was, those early conversations were crucial introductions to earning their support.
This poster from the 2006 Harkin Steak Fry marks the first time then-Senator Obama gave a political speech in Iowa. Originally invited to keynote the annual Democratic fundraiser because it was assumed he would not be a candidate for president, his reception at the event began to change his thinking about whether to run. Upon seeing the program recently, President Obama said, “I can’t believe anyone thought I was old enough to run the country.”
Some Obama campaign volunteers in Iowa agreed to serve as “precinct captain” in their local precinct on caucus night. Since the event was a caucus and not a primary, Iowa organizers were tasked with finding a local supporter in each of Iowa’s then-1781 precincts who would be willing to stand on behalf of then-Senator Obama’s campaign and encourage their neighbors attending the caucus to join them.
Footage of these caucus meetings in school gyms, local libraries, fire stations, and sometimes even living rooms, would often feature Obama Precinct Captains trying to convince supporters of other candidates to come over to their side after others failed to meet the viability threshold at the caucus.
Nathan Blake is the Chief Deputy Attorney General of Iowa. He began his legal career in private practice before quitting in 2007 to join Barack Obama’s Iowa Caucus Campaign as a Field Organizer. Nathan later worked on anti-hunger policy at the United States Department of Agriculture in the Obama Administration. Before serving in his current position, he spent six years prosecuting Iowa Consumer Fraud Act cases and four years as the Deputy Attorney General for Policy. A graduate of Union College, Yale Law School, and Yale Divinity School, Nathan lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his wife, Andrea, and their three children.
Capt. Ann Marie Dailey is an engineer officer in the U.S. Army currently working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy. She was born and raised in Moline, IL and has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She joined Obama for America in August, 2007 as a full-time unpaid intern in Davenport, IA, and went on to organize in several states through the 2008 general election. She enlisted in the Army in 2016, and was commissioned in 2017. The views expressed are those of the individual and do not reflect the official position of the Department of the Army or Department of Defense.
Million Fikre is a first-generation Ethiopian-American, born in Addis Ababa and raised in northern Virginia, where his parents relocated as asylum-seekers shortly after his first birthday. Drawn by his parents’ stories to study international politics, Million joined the Obama presidential campaign as a field organizer in rural northeast Iowa and worked in several states through the 2008 election. Following President Obama’s victory, Million returned to Ethiopia to support community-based organizations, before joining the Obama Administration in 2009 as a political appointee at the U.S. Treasury. Since 2013, Million has worked in the field of international development at the World Bank. He holds a Master in International Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in Integrative Studies from George Mason University. Million is the proud father of two wonderful daughters: Leyu, age 12, and Samra, age 11.
James Schuelke is a proud community college alum and currently serves as Director of Outreach & Marketing at Oxnard College in his hometown of Oxnard, California. After attending Camp Obama in 2007—a volunteer training hosted in Chicago—James temporarily dropped out of UC Davis to move to Iowa for the Obama Campaign, where he was soon hired as a Field Organizer in Allamakee County. He went on to lead various field and communications efforts for the campaign in an additional five states. Following President Obama’s election in 2008, James served in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. He later attended graduate school at Brown University before joining an educational nonprofit led by Dr. Jill Biden. James and his wife Taruna live in Ventura County, California, with their daughter Asha (which means “Hope” in Hindi).
Kiana Scott is a strategic communications expert and nonprofit leader with more than a decade of experience working at the intersection of politics, policy, and civic engagement. She is currently Interim Co-Executive Director and Director of Development for a workforce development nonprofit, and previously helped launch a national organization focused on economic stability. She led external relationships for the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Washington, and while a doctoral student was appointed the student member of the UW Board of Regents by Governor Jay Inslee. She earned her Ph.D. and MA in political communication and her MPA from UW. Prior to graduate school, Kiana worked on political campaigns at all levels of government. She joined President Obama’s campaign in Iowa in June 2007, where she organized Washington and Louisa counties, and organized in a total of ten states prior to the 2008 election. Kiana graduated from Williams College with degrees in art history and history with honors. Kiana is a Vice President, Program Committee Chair, and former Leadership Fellow of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Vice President of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, a board member for the Institute for a Democratic Future, and an elected Precinct Committee Officer. Kiana grew up on San Juan Island and spends as much time as possible on the water with her dog and partner.
Dr. Shannon Valley is a climate scientist working at the intersections of science and society. After graduating high school in Houston and college from Northwestern, she moved to Iowa to volunteer for the Obama campaign in summer 2007. She spent time working as a sandwich maker at a local Subway in order to volunteer full time for the Obama campaign, before being hired as an organizer and being placed in Ames, Iowa. She went on to work in several states for the Obama campaign, and later was appointed as an assistant to the White House Domestic Policy Council and several years as an appointee at NASA. She holds a PhD in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she studied past oceanic circulation. Currently, Dr. Valley is a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow placed at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Before that, she was a postdoctoral scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researching the potential for carbon emissions from coastal marsh systems.