UI student organizer who became Obama staffer publishes oral history on ’08 Caucuses

President Barack Obama participates in a 2008 Iowa Caucus oral history interview with Chris Liddell-Westefeld in the Oval Office, Feb. 3, 2015. — official White House photo by Pete Souza

In 2007, University of Iowa student Chris Liddell-Westefeld co-founded Iowa Students for Barack Obama. He became an essential part of candidate Obama’s Iowa ground team and wound up working in the White House for five years, preparing the president’s daily briefings.

After leaving that post, Liddell-Westefeld conducted over 200 interviews with organizers and public figures about the movement that brought about Obama’s historic election. Today, the 10th anniversary of Obama’s win in the Iowa Caucuses, Liddell-Westefeld published outtakes from those interviews with Crooked Media.

“That’s my favorite night of my entire political career,” President Obama told Liddell-Westefeld of winning the Iowa Caucuses. “To me, that was a more powerful night than the night I was elected President.”

Liddell-Westefeld writes in his article’s introduction:

Ten years ago today Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucuses, en route to the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, and ultimately the presidency.

That first victory shocked the world. Obama had entered a race with few endorsements or national legislative accomplishments against opponents that included a former first lady (the frontrunner) and the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee (who had campaigned in Iowa for nearly five years)

How did one of the whitest states in the union propel the first African-American president to the nomination? What about him captured Iowans’ imaginations? What compelled hundreds of young people to uproot their lives and join a movement considered so unlikely in its nascent stages? What was unique about his organization that future candidates, aides, volunteers, and activists can learn from?

You can’t help but ask yourself: Is it too soon to start organizing for 2020?

(No. No, it is not.)

For more inspiration, read the full article and a compilation of outtakes from Liddell-Westefeld’s oral history over at

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