After clinching the nomination, one of Obama's first tasks was to pick a running mate. Although Joe Biden wasn't Obama's immediate choice, it turned out to be an easy decision. The two men couldn't be more different. Biden was nineteen years older and had spent his career in Congress. He wasn't necessarily cool, but he was warm, smart, compassionate, and cared about people, which were traits Obama valued.
Initially, the Obama campaign was leading the polls against his opponent, the Republican nominee John McCain, but they were in for a surprise when he announced his running mate. McCain decided to run alongside Sarah Palin, the relatively unknown governor of Alaska, who lacked in-depth knowledge of the issues but had a smalltown, working-class demeanor that appealed to voters, who identified with her. Palin's popularity was a symptom of a larger problem. Partisanship, political allegiances, and small but growing populist sentiment were beginning to creep into the Republican party. Obama respected McCain but was wary of the increasingly rightward, the extremist direction the party was taking.
However, the worst problems were yet to come. In late 2007, large lenders of subprime mortgages began to declare bankruptcy, which adversely affected the markets and caused financial institutions to lose billions of dollars. By the spring of 2008, the country was in a recession, and by the fall, the country was in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. McCain made the ill-advised decision to suspend his campaign in the final weeks to focus on solving the financial crisis, a move which ultimately proved to be the final nail in their coffin. Obama was emerging as the clear winner.
On the day of the election, Obama passed the time playing basketball. He and his family watched the results come in at a hotel in downtown Chicago, and when it became clear that he would win, his mother-in-law couldn't believe it. Marian Robinson had never imagined she would see a Black president in her lifetime, and as she watched the race get called for her son-in-law, she described it all as “kind of too much.”