Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

The Woman Who Changed the World

With Barack Obama\’s meteoric rise topping the news these days, many people have forgotten the bizarre series of events that paved the way to his stunning ascendance. It\’s especially interesting given that some personal and minor details, thought at the time to be insignificant, could now eventually shape the world we live in – given that Obama has a realistic chance to win the presidency. In retrospect, Obama\’s presidential run was the candidacy that almost never happened.

Back in 2004, Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator with some modest accomplishments on his resume. He spearheaded welfare reform in the Illinois statehouse, and took the lead in passing a law that required interrogations in murder cases to be videotaped.

After unsuccessfully challenging strong Democratic incumbent Bobby Rush in a Congressional primary in 2000, Obama returned in 2004 to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald. Obama emerged from a crowded Democratic primary that included multi-millionaire Blair Hull, who spent $29 million of his own money in the primary alone (including paying homeowners $75 a day to keep his signs in their yards). In an 8-candidate race, Obama garnered 53% of the vote, routing his opponents.

Yet despite running away with the primary, Obama still had a formidable challenge in Republican Jack Ryan. Ryan was an impressive candidate – attractive and wealthy, with law and business degrees from Harvard. After making a fortune at Goldman Sachs, Ryan left to teach in an inner city school.

Yet Ryan had a problem – during the campaign, he was going through a messy divorce from actress Jeri Ryan, of \”Star Trek: Voyager\” fame. Details of Jeri Ryan\’s testimony contained lurid details about Ryan forcing his wife to go to sex clubs in Paris. These details were toxic to Jack Ryan\’s campaign, and he saw his poll numbers plummet – eventually, Republican leaders pressed Ryan to quit the race, fearing he was toxic to the statewide ticket.

Eventually, Ryan bowed out, leaving the Illinois Republican Party to find a candidate to run against Obama. This led to the national embarrassment of Alan Keyes moving to Illinois to run. Naturally, Obama won 70%-27%, buoyed by his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention.

The rest is history. Certainly, Obama deserves all the credit for the way he has excited Democratic crowds around the country – leading to his rout of Hillary Clinton in Iowa. And he may have beaten Jack Ryan on his own. But it\’s fascinating to think that the salacious testimony of a woman scorned could one day fundamentally alter the path of the world in which we live. Without it, Barack Obama could still be sitting in the Illinois statehouse, planning his next political move.

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UPDATE: Charlie Sykes discussed this post today on the air.  Listen to it here.

30 Comments

  1. I think Ryan’s scandal both hurt and helped Obama.

    It helped Obama because the easy win over Keyes allowed Obama to campaign across the country and build on his convention performance. His race was such a laugher that he was able to campaign with Dems across the country and that helped his career immensely.

    But it also hurt him. With the exception of his ill-fated challenge of Bobby Rush, Obama had never really faced a tough campaign. He needed some battle scars. He needed to have some bad days. He needed to have a debate that meant something rather than fending off the amusing diatribes of a well-dressed mental asylum escapee. One of the reasons Hillary did better early in the campaign is that of all the candidates — Republican or Democrat — she is battle-tested when it comes to campaigns. Between the early days of 1992 and the summer of 2000, Hillary has seen it all. Which is why she had the political sense to pounce on Obama’s early gaffes (i.e. fumbling on meeting with world leaders or the debate question about responding to another terrorist attack). Obama is a gifted campaigner and a quick learner; by the time push came to shove in Iowa, he knew what he was doing. But a good, tough race against Jack Ryan might have sped up the learning curve.

  2. Resistance is futile after all.

  3. Shame on Jack Ryan for screwing that up.

    What an idiot.

  4. Seriously, if I had that to come home to, the only sex club in the world I’d have any interest in whatsoever would be my own bedroom.

    Qwinn

  5. IUt’s just another in a long list of elections where the Republican party screws up and hands the election to a democrat.

    Take Hillary vs. Guilliani. His own ego would not let him resign early enough from the race to give Lazio a fighting chance.

    Ashcroft lost the seat to a dead man and refused to challenge the election.

    The Washington state Republican party turned down money from the national party and wasted money on their headquarters. If they had taken that money and spent it in King County, they would have won and not cant(do)well.

    And then ther is this…

  6. I’ve always blamed Mike Ditka for Obama. If only he had wanted to be a Senator and accepted the GOP nomination…

    I’m only half-joking.

  7. What you may have forgotten (or not known) is that Obama was losing badly to Blair Hull up to about 1 1/2 – 2 weeks before the election, when it was revealed (by the Tribune I think) in Hull’s divorce decree that one of the reasons for the divorce was that Hull beat his wife on a regular basis.

    Hull went into hiding and Obama won.

  8. Shame on Jack Ryan for screwing that up.
    What an idiot.

    Seriously. I don’t care to Google the man, but even if he was a billionaire with movie-star looks there’s no excuse for that kind of lapse in judgment?

    Jeri Ryan’s husband forcing her to SEX clubs? What’s next, Donald Trump going broke on roulette?

  9. Rack em up, Jeri.

  10. As I understand it, it was *Jack*, not *Jeri*, Ryan’s choices that led to his undoing. Why didn’t you use a picture of him, not her?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Ryan_%28Senate_candidate%29

  11. Craig says: “One of the reasons Hillary did better early in the campaign is that of all the candidates — Republican or Democrat — she is battle-tested when it comes to campaigns.”

    How long will you folks continue to underestimate Obama. He’s an organizer, people. He knew if he unleashed early in Iowa, the Clinton machine would react and come down hard. He stayed in the weeds, building a strong organization, until the timing was right, when he could peak at caucus day and she wouldn’t have time to react. His ability to inspire large numbers of people didn’t start three weeks before the caucus (remember 04 Dem Con), but his strategic decision was brilliant. And the five days before NH primary wasn’t enough for Clinton adequately react either, just dig themselves deeper.

    The guy was an Alinsky organizer, people. They know what they’re doing. Naive, my @ss! He’s brilliant!

  12. I wish it were is easy to explain away as all that.

    But, as someone who was actually part of that debacle (i.e. the Jack Ryan campaign), I can tell you that Jack was down 20 points to Obama coming out of that primary well before the divorce papers went public and he ultimately withdrew from the race.

    Even were it not for those events, Jack faced a steep uphill climb. The same Obama love bug that has now bitten the national media struck the Illinois press corps in 2003-2004 (and has not subsided).

    That and the implosion of the Republican Party in the Land of Lincoln (from which we still are far from recovery) made the prospects of the GOP/Jack Ryan holding that Senate seat in 2004 slim indeed. Peter Fitzgerald recognized that and chose not to seek re-election, giving rise to what ensued.

    A lot of politics is good timing. Obama has been the beneficiary of good timing, weak opponents, and the even weaker-minded traditional media infrastructure.

  13. She’s kinda pretty though.

  14. Wasn’t the information about the Ryan’s divorce leaked? I recall that in this story, the evidence of his requests to take Jeri to those clubs was sealed – but someone leaked it. Am I way off here? I wonder, if true, who leaked it.

  15. I expect the Clintons will find or already have some
    action that can be changed to look very badly on everyone in the race.

    Never underestimate the Clintons, they just finished making the world think they are angry, sad to the point
    of crying in public, and the voters, as usual, rushed
    to make them feel better.

    What do these people have that makes American democrats
    nutty? They must have seen what they did to the WH
    before, why would anyone want them in there again?

    It is early days and McCain or whoever runs for the
    right will have more dirt than he can get out on the
    Clintons, especially now that Bill has decided he has
    to help his wife out now, if so, what about when
    she is the president?
    I tremble.

  16. Interesting. 7of9 would be perplexed.

    As I remember, the details were leaked (from sealed portions of divorce documents) by the campaign chief [Rod McCulloch] of another Republican candidate[John Borling], against that candidate’s wishes.

    At the time, both Jack and Jeri Ryan stated that they had wanted to keep the matters of their divorce private for the sake of their son. Although I think it’s interesting to draw the connecting line from this actress to the new election, it’s misleading to characterize this as the effect of ‘a woman scorned.’ She may have been scorned and scornful, but she did not publicize the fact and was not responsible for its disclosure.

  17. Things may have been looking up hill for Ryan, Dan Proft, but the leak may any kind of come-back impossible. Would you trust a guy to have good sense when he visited sex clubs while married to 7 of 9?

  18. Ashley #22 is correct, Jeri Ryan did not release this information, rather it was illegally leaked from sealed records as part of a political hit job. Jack Ryan up until then was a Republican dream candidate. He should have stayed in the race.

  19. Jeri Ryan is not “kinda pretty”; she is stunningly beautiful, even with very little makeup on. I met her at a Star Trek convention and she is “stunning”.

    Also, she is a very nice person and treated people in the audience (when she spoke) with respect and a hug or two.

    The luckiest guy in the house, besides the one who got a kiss from her (he gave her a birthday present), was her bodyguard, a man who looked like he should have been on the “Sopranos” show, but who was actually a gentle giant.

    Dressed in a white sweater and pants outfit, she looked like an angel, and behaved like one.

    Long live this Borg!

  20. Da noive, trying to get freakay with his own wife!

  21. Jeri and Jack divorced in 1999, long before the successful Obama campaign. An enterprising reporter sued to unseal their divorce records because he/she sensed there was something untoward there.

    Both Jeri and Jack opposed the unsealing of those documents because of their son. They lost.

    I fail to see how anyone can hold Jeri Ryan responsible for Obama’s success when the divorce happened years before his successful campaign and when she had nothing to do with the unsealing of the documents.

    And doesn’t Jack have to take some responsibility here? Jeri said “no” to the idea of sex clubs/sex with strangers on numerous occasions and he refused to take “no” for an answer. It seems to me if he had abided by his wife’s wishes, none of this would have happened at all.

  22. If guys just stopped trying after the first “no”, the Earth would be completely depopulated in five generations.

  23. If guys just stopped trying after the first “no”, the Earth would be completely depopulated in five generations.

    That issue is not in dispute.

    However, according to the accounts, Jack was not asking for marital relations, he was asking Jeri to perform sex acts with strangers in public sex clubs. That activity does not generally have anything to do with procreation/population and therefore your observation does not apply.

  24. tho it’s an interesting bit of trivia that jeri ryan was once married to jack ryan who was once an opponent of barack obama, there is certainly no causual relationship that can be discerned.

    it’s really just pathetic excuse to link star trek to current politics and to post a picture of a beautiful woman.

    the only thing more pathetic than displaying such a tenuous connection for pop culture references and cheesecake shots is shameless blogwhoring.

    for instance, over at skippy: seven of nine sings ben folds five.

  25. What is impossible to understand is how the Illinois Republican Party settled on Alan Keyes as Obama’s opponent. Some little known mayor or State Senator would probably have lost, but have prevented the sort of meltdown that occurred.

  26. I abhor a conspiracy theorist, but isn’t it at least plausible that it was plain ole dirty politics that got the divorce records unsealed?

    And as to the insightful comments of Dan Proft, are you kidding??!! Why on earth would a candidate be satisfied to sit on their lead in the polls when they have the opportunity to bury (or at the very least severly hurt) their opponent by publicizing embarrassing information about them? (see: HIT JOB)

    Oye!!

    Please go down to the Clue Store ASAP and get one.

    “converse” is right – how long will folks continue to underestimate Obama’s political savvy/bag-of-dirty-tricks?

    Oh – he IS from Chicago, right? The city that’s well-known for its above-board, high-minded politics 😉

  27. One more item – I hate to burst your collective bubbles (“collective” – get it??) (did I mention that I’m a complete dork?) (didn’t have to – right?), but I used to “perform” at a little place in Peoria (during my days in the entertainment bid’ness) where I encountered (albeit too briefly) Ms. Jeri while I was still clad in Spandex. She may look good, but she’s a great disappointment in the kissing dept. I concluded that kissing lessons for her would be … futile.

  28. Axelrod got the Tribune and WGN to get the records unsealed, then blasted it along with many Obama puff pieces.

  29. Maybe chula is correct but parts of the sealed records were laked to an opponents camp mgr befor that by a blonde lady from a fax at the park dist where ryan lives. noone ever tryed to find the person for some reason

  30. Jeri Ryan did not bring down Jack Ryan and raise up Obama to the throne. Jack Ryan brought down Jack Ryan by being a dumba$$!

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