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Watch Episode 8 of 'The Contenders — 16 for '16'

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Why you should care

Because you can’t understand today’s candidates without listening to yesterday’s.

The only two U.S. presidents to serve as president during the 21st century, George W. Bush and Barack Obama both earned two terms in office thanks in large part to some of the best-run campaigns in presidential history.

The son of a former president, George W. Bush rebounded from an unsuccessful career in the Texas oil and gas industry and a failed congressional run to become the governor of Texas in 1994. In 2000, Bush, a Yale and Harvard business grad, bested Arizona Sen. John McCain in a hotly contested Republican primary before winning one of the closest and most controversial elections in U.S. history, defeating then–Vice President Al Gore by a few hundred votes in Florida after the state’s recount went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, transformed his presidency, leading to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush squared off against Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in 2004, in another hard-fought election. In a campaign characterized by a fierce foreign policy debate, negative attack ads and a message from Osama bin Laden, Bush and his savvy campaign prevailed, winning re-election.

In just a few years, Barack Obama went from an obscure Illinois state senator to the nation’s first African-American commander in chief. Thanks to an innovative campaign that mobilized a massive grassroots organization of volunteers and donors, Obama, a former community organizer, would win early victories in the Iowa caucuses and South Carolina primary en route to beating Sen. Hillary Clinton in a prolonged battle for the Democratic nomination. He would go on to best another seasoned politician and senator, John McCain, on the way to becoming the 44th president of the United States.

After helping the U.S. rebound from recession, passing a controversial health care reform law and authorizing the raid that led to bin Laden’s death, Obama returned to the campaign trail in 2012 to pursue re-election. In a close contest against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama’s well-organized campaign machine again prevailed, and the president won a second term in office.

OZY2016

The route to the White House: news, stories and analysis from on and off the presidential campaign trail.