WASHINGTON — Four years before President Barack Obama grew to national prominence as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he was broke after running a losing campaign, his credit card was declined and he was quickly losing hope on pursuing a career in politics.
In a recent sit down with former chief strategist David Axelrod on The Axe Files podcast, Obama reflected recently on his political career including his past eight years as president as he prepares to leave the White House. He touches on moments that stick out to him, and mentions one extremely low point that served as a key moment.
After losing the Democratic primary for the Illinois 1st congressional district in 2000, Obama says he was feeling down. He had spent all his money on the campaign, he had a wife and a child at home with another baby on the way, and was seriously contemplating a career outside of politics after the stinging loss.
A friend asked Obama to join him at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, saying it might cheer him up to be surrounded by like minded and energetic politicos. Upon arriving in California and attempting to rent a car, his credit card was declined.
And his bad luck didn’t just end there.
“I get to the hotel where my friend is ready to go and we go over to the convention and they give me the pass that basically only allows you to be in the halls. The ring around the auditorium doesn’t actually allow you to see anything,” Obama recalls.
The weekend, which was supposed to get him back in the politics mindset, continued turning for the worst when a friend tried to get him into the convention after parties, and bouncers kept turning him away, saying they didn’t know his name and couldn’t recognize his face.
“I felt as if I was a third wheel in this whole thing,” Obama tells Axelrod. “I ended up leaving early, and that was the stage when I was really questioning whether I should be in politics.”
After this experience, Obama, aided by Axelrod, looked at the election results in a different light and realized that there was a path for him to succeed. Four years later, Obama returned to the DNC and gave the keynote speech, a speech that elevated his status within the Democratic party as a rising star.
“If you had won that congressional race,” Axelrod said to Obama in the interview, “we wouldn’t be sitting in the Roosevelt Room right now.”