In a Vanity Fair profile written during the 2012 presidential campaign, President Obama admitted, “There is such an element of randomness in who gets this job.”
Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama was not born to be president. His rise could have been derailed by any number of events that occurred during his career, or even before it. Here are some historical “what ifs” that could have prevented Obama from becoming president -- or even from becoming a politician.
If Wisconsin Steel had not gone bankrupt in 1980: The Calumet Community Religious Conference was formed by the Catholic Church to assist laid-off steelworkers on the Southeast Side and in the south suburbs. The Developing Communities Project, which hired Obama as an organizer in 1985, was an urban offshoot of the CCRC.
If Jerry Kellman had not taken out an ad in Community Jobs: Kellman, who worked for the CCRC, was looking for a black organizer to head the Developing Communities Project. Unable to find the right candidate in Chicago, he took out an ad in a magazine called Community Jobs, which was read by Obama in the New York Public Library.
If Harold Washington had not been mayor of Chicago: Obama has said that Washington was one of the reasons he came to Chicago. He was looking for a city where African-Americans were controlling their own destiny. In the mid-1980s, that was Chicago.
If Mel Reynolds hadn’t been a horndog: In 1995, Rep. Mel Reynolds was forced to resign his seat in Congress. State Sen. Alice Palmer, who represented Hyde Park, ran in the special election to replace him. Obama ran for Palmer’s senate seat -- with her blessing.
If state Sen. Alice Palmer had collected enough legitimate signatures: After losing the special election to fill Reynolds’s seat, Palmer decided to jump back into the race for her state senate seat -- a seat for which she had endorsed Obama as her replacement. Palmer’s hurried petition resulted in a number of invalid signatures. Obama challenged her petitions, and knocked her off the ballot, avoiding certain defeat by the incumbent.
If Obama had defeated Bobby Rush: Obama would never have made it to the White House -- or even the U.S. Senate -- as the representative of the historically black 1st Congressional District. Obama was not meant to be the representative of a single race. He was meant to be a bridge between races.
If Obama hadn’t lost to Bobby Rush: Before running for Congress, Obama was regarded by his state senate colleagues as an arrogant know-it-all who liked to boast about attending Harvard Law School, and disdained the dirty work of passing bills. The defeat humbled him, and inspired him to become a harder working, more collegial legislator.
If Jack Ryan hadn’t taken his wife to a sex club: Ryan, who won the 2004 Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, was forced to step down as a candidate after the Tribune got ahold of his divorce papers, which revealed that he’d pressured his wife, Deep Space Nine actress Jeri Ryan, to have sex in public. Obama probably would have beaten Ryan, but he would have had to work harder and spend more money than he did against Alan Keyes, leaving him less time to campaign for his colleagues, which built up chits he used in his presidential race. Also, Obama was invited to deliver the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention partly because the party was afraid the Republicans would run Mike Ditka for Senate.
If Obama had not spoken at the Democratic National Convention: Obama would still have been elected to the Senate, and, as its only African-American, would have been one of its best known members. But he would not have been enough of a star to defeat Hillary Clinton for the nomination in 2008.