Aired Tuesday October 14th, 2008 at 8:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
It has been called one of the most historic presidential elections in our nation's history - Barack Obama versus John McCain. It is a race that pits the iconoclast against the newcomer, the heroic prisoner of war against the first African American nominated by a major party. FRONTLINE's critically acclaimed series "The Choice" returns this election season to examine the rich personal and political biographies of these two men in "The Choice 2008," airs Tuesday, October 14, 2008,at 8 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7.
"The Choice 2008," part of "PBS Vote 2008" election coverage, draws on in-depth interviews with the advisers, family and friends closest to these unlikely candidates, as well as with seasoned observers of American politics, who together tell the definitive story of these men and their ascent to their party's nominations.
When FRONTLINE first aired a profile of presidential candidates during the 1988 election, "The Choice" redefined political journalism on television. Now, in an unprecedented election year, veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk ("Bush's War," "Cheney's Law") goes behind the headlines to tell a deeper political story about the candidates, the decisions they made and why their nominations may indicate a historic change in American politics.
The story begins at the Democratic Convention in 2004 when Barack Obama, a little-known candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, stepped forward to tell his personal story and to call for a move beyond partisan politics.
"All around were people with tears in their eyes," Obama's chief political adviser David Axelrod tells FRONTLINE. "And I realized at that moment that his life would never be the same."
Also that summer, the future Republican nominee John McCain, a self-described maverick and sometime adversary of the Bush administration, took the stage at his party's convention to defend the president's national security policy. In an effort to win the support of his party, the longtime senator from Arizona had decided to try to walk a fine line - a line he'd had trouble walking all his life - between being an unconventional outsider and a team player.
"I think McCain's goal was to make himself more acceptable to the party base without completely surrendering his outsider independent persona, and that was a very complex balancing act," says Mark McKinnon, a member of McCain's inner circle and former media adviser to President Bush.
As McCain the maverick was trying to make peace with his party, Obama the newcomer was discovering that the afterglow from his speech was leading party elders to suggest the freshman senator consider a future run for the White House. Within two years of his arrival in the Senate, a window of opportunity seemed open if he was willing to take the chance.
"I told him he should do it," former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle tells FRONTLINE. "The longer he's in Washington, the more history he has, and the more history he has, the more he's going to be explaining his votes and his actions and his statements and his positions that undermine his message" - a message that was all about breaking with the past.
FRONTLINE follows the two candidates from deep inside their campaigns as they run the gauntlet of the 2008 primary and become their party's nominees - the heroic former prisoner of war against the first African-American nominee . Examine the rich personal and political biographies of these men, and go behind the headlines to discover how they arrived at this moment and what their different candidacies say about America.
Encore Broadcasts: Sunday, October 26, and Monday, November 3, at 9 p.m.
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