Obama: Still The Luckiest Politician Alive

A series of fortuitous events have helped the 44th president get where he is today.

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In this Nov. 16, 2004 file photo, then-Sen.-elect Barack Obama, D-Ill., is surrounded by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. The president's re-election campaign is increasingly sounding like a nostalgia tour. His speeches stroll through elections past, serving up fond memories of his days running as a political unknown, identifying early political inspirations and reminding voters that, win or lose, this will be his last campaign after 13 appearances on the ballot since 1996.
In this Nov. 16, 2004 file photo, then-Sen.-elect Barack Obama, D-Ill., is surrounded by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. The president's re-election campaign is increasingly sounding like a nostalgia tour. His speeches stroll through elections past, serving up fond memories of his days running as a political unknown, identifying early political inspirations and reminding voters that, win or lose, this will be his last campaign after 13 appearances on the ballot since 1996.

Throughout Barack Obama's political career, a series of fortuitous events have led pundits, comedians and conservatives to dub him "the luckiest politician alive."

One day out from Election Day, with images of heroic cleanup and rapid recovery after Superstorm Sandy splashed across TV screens, that moniker seems to still fit. A Pew poll out Monday shows Obama taking a three point lead over Romney, with 69 percent of all likely voters approving of the way the president is handling the storm.

[READ: Obama Riding Hurricane Sandy Poll Bounce Into Election Day]

Obama's luck seems to have begun in earnest in 2004, when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat. First, Obama's popular opponent, Republican Jack Ryan, withdrew from the race over an alleged sex scandal with his ex-wife. Then, the scuttlebutt was former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka, a legend in the city, would be Ryan's replacement.

But Ditka ultimately declined, and Ryan was replaced instead by perennial candidate, but never office-holder, Alan Keyes. The Maryland Republican was ridiculed even in conservative circles, described once by conservative site Hot Air as "the same [man] who staged a hunger strike when he was excluded from a debate, who once threw himself into a mosh pit, and who can predict how Jesus will vote in various elections."

With no real contender, Obama's Senate win was ensured.

Fast forward four years to the presidential election of 2008 and Obama—a relatively inexperienced presidential candidate—was delivered the gift of the far more inexperienced Sarah Palin. Arizona Sen. John McCain's running mate from Alaska proceeded to make a series of crippling gaffes, most notably when she suggested she could see Russia from her home state.

[READ: On Election Day, Single Women Could Sway The Vote]

And in keeping with the trend of bad events being good for Obama, a series of bank and insurance company failures just before the election, which led to the financial crash, suggested to voters that perhaps they didn't need another Republican president.

This election, some have said Obama's lucky charm is none other than his opponent, Mitt Romney. As Newt Gingrich put it at the start: Why nominate the "guy who lost to the guy who lost to Obama?" (Romney lost the 2008 primary to McCain.) In September, "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart said a series of gaffes by Romney made Obama the "luckiest dude on the planet." Perhaps most fortuitously, the Obama campaign's narrative of Romney as elitist jerk was seemingly affirmed by the release of a secret video in which the Republican nominee spoke negatively about 47 percent of Americans.

And yet Obama and Romney were neck and neck in the polls—until Hurricane Sandy. The storm made landfall on the mid-Atlantic region exactly one week before Election Day, enough time for Obama to look presidential responding to the disaster, however callous that may sound. The mega-storm was seen as such good fortune for Obama that conspiracy theorists said they believed the president had even engineered the storm, and former Mississippi governor and Republican strategist Haley Barbour acknowledged that "the hurricane is what broke Romney's momentum."

[READ: Obama's Sandy Response Bumps Poll Numbers]

"Any day that the news media is not talking about jobs and the economy, taxes and spending, deficit and debt, Obamacare and energy, is a good day for Barack Obama," Barbour told CNN's State of the Union.

Monday appeared to be the first weekday after the storm the media returned to full coverage of the election.

If Obama wins reelection Tuesday, of course, it can't be attributed just to luck. "You make your own luck and, to a large extent, Obama has done just that," the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza notes of the president. But few can deny that if Obama wins Tuesday, it will be with the appearance of good fortune on his side.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.