Friday, January 19, 2007

Obama – ‘Recruited by the People’ – Sets Stage for ’08 Run, Declaration Set for Feb. 10

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, currently the only black senator in Congress, took the first step toward making an official bid for the presidency by filing papers with the Federal Election Commission establishing the Obama Exploratory Committee. Via video posted on his Web site Tuesday, the Democratic senator said he will announce on Feb. 10 whether or not he will run for U.S. president. Political analysts expect Obama’s answer will be a declaration of candidacy.
“Obama -- like Hilary Rodham Clinton, John McCain, Mitt Romney and John Edwards -- has already set up a political organization to run the campaign. If someone has put in place the whole apparatus to run, they are probably going to run,” notes David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
Obama's announcement was low-key, considering it was done online. Though he is a magnificent orator, he didn’t make any public appearances following the declaration. This could be an intended indication of a grass-roots campaign from the former Chicago community organizer, who, after law school, organized one of the largest successful voter registration drives in that city’s history to help Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential election.
“The American people seem to have recruited Barack Obama to run,” says Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau. “We keep hearing this discussion everywhere, from so many segments of our community, people saying, ‘Run, Obama, run.’ It’s an extraordinary thing in our country for someone to be recruited by the people.”
Obama, 45, becomes the fifth Democrat to toss a hat into the race for the White House in 2008. Senators Joseph R. Biden of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut; Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, and Tom Vilsack, who stepped down as governor of Iowa, are all running. Clinton of New York, considered the front-runner, is expected to join. And both New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts are also considering a run for the Oval Office.
“We’ll see what this means for Clinton,” says Bositis, who believes Obama’s candidacy would probably “hurt the lesser known Democrats more.”
Obama, only the third Black senator since Reconstruction, has also authored two bestselling autobiographical books and been featured on the cover of major magazines. He was elected to the U.S Congress in 2004 after serving eight years as an Illinois state senator. He is the son of a Nairobi-born, Harvard-educated economist and a white anthropologist from Kansas. His parents divorced when he was two years old, and Obama only saw his father one more time before the man died.
The senator graduated from Harvard Law School, where he served as the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. He has worked as a community organizator and civil rights lawyer. In recent years, the charismatic Obama has become a popular speaker at major fundraising events for Democrats around the country.
"I certainly didn't expect to find myself in this position a year ago," Obama said in the video announcement posted on the Web site. "I've been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics. So, I've spent some time thinking about how I could best advance the cause of change and progress that we so desperately need."
Obama, a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, said decisions made in the Capitol the past six years “have put our country in a precarious place. Our economy is changing rapidly, and that means profound changes for working people.”
During his travels, he said, citizens have told him of their financial hardships resulting in conditions such as a lack of health care. “Our continued dependence on oil has put our security and our very planet at risk. And we're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should have never been waged,” Obama said.
Repeating his message of inclusion that he articulated in his electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama said in the video that the most pressing problem today is “the smallness of our politics.
“America's faced big problems before. But today, our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common sense way," he intoned. "Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions.”
Now that Obama has followed the legal procedure to move his candidacy forward, the real, roll-up-your-sleeves work of broadening his political base and gaining name recognition begins. The fact that the senator is against the war in Iraq could work in his favor -- or against him.
“At the present moment in time, it doesn’t hurt,” says Bositis. “The country clearly is unhappy with the war, but we don’t know how things are going to be at the end of the year or next year at this time.”
Obama’s multiracial background and experience of living in different worlds may be among his biggest assets. He grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii. He was treated as a political rock star during a tour of Africa last year. In his campaign for senator, he galvanized voters across ethnic lines with his grassroots message of inclusion and citizen power under the slogan, “Yes, we can!”
When his candidacy is analyzed, race is seldom mentioned.
“It obviously didn’t play much of a role when he was elected in the Senate,” says Bositis. “Of course, his opponent was black. But, I would say we would have to wait and see what it means in terms of the primary. There is a lot about this we are not sure of. It’s not simply a case of him being black or white; he’s multi-racial, which potentially might have an effect not only on white voters but on black voters as well.”
Race may definitely be a factor when the possibility of a Clinton-Obama ticket is mentioned.
“The country has never elected a woman and never elected an African-American. I don’t think the Democrats would want a ticket like that,” says Bositis, who calls such a slate “a pretty risky gamble.”
Shelton says as far as black voters are concerned, Obama will have to do what every candidate has to do.
“The African-American community, like every other demographic group, votes on economic issues,” says Shelton, who explained that while the NAACP does not endorse candidates, it does grade them on their voting records. “In other words, Obama is going to have to simply prove he is going to advance policies and concerns of interest to the African-American community. If his report card grade with the NAACP is any indication, he is well on his way. He got an ‘A’ out of 28 key issues that NAACP graded U.S. Congress on. He voted with our concerns every single time.”
But according to the NAACP’s grading, Clinton also receives an ‘A.’
“She voted with us every time. She has advanced in her leadership role some issues very important to the NAACP,” says Shelton.
Obama’s popularity has bordered on celebrity status since his speech at the convention. In 2005, Time dubbed him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He received a $1.9 million contract to write three books. He and his wife Michelle, also a lawyer, have appeared on “Oprah” a couple of times; a photo of him on vacation and in swimming trunks appeared in a recent “People” magazine.
Now his political record that will come under scrutiny.
“He has done an excellent job as a freshman senator,” says Shelton. “It has been one of the most seamless integrations into the Senate that I have seen.”

By: Patrice Gaines, Special to Black

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