Democrats & Liberals Archives

Meteoric Rise for Obama

Two weeks ago, the Democratic party selected Barack Obama as the keynote speaker for the Democratic Convention, which began yesterday in Boston. Tonight he will headline the “Lifetime of Strength & Service” night.

So who is Barack Obama and where did he come from? And what does he mean to the Democratic party?

A state senator representing parts of the South Side of Chicago, he seemed to be an afterthought in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL). However, helped by rival Blair Hull's divorce scandal, a strong showing in debates and major newspaper endorsements, Obama surged in the polls during the home stretch of the campaign and won with a staggering 53% of the vote in a seven way race.

He did so because he reached out to all constituencies -- inner city minorities, the educated, affluent "lakeshore liberals" who reside along Chicago's north side and North Shore suburbs, rural farmers, union workers and others. He won precincts that were long controlled by party bosses or that would "never vote for a minority." David Axelrod, Obama's political consultant noted, "He has the ability to walk into any room and connect with anybody. I think it's because of who he is - the many different cultural strands that are part of him."

Born to a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, he spent much if his early life living with his grandparents in Hawaii. After attending Columbia University and Harvard law School, he settled in Chicago to practice civil rights law. He later became a constitutional law teacher at University of Chicago and in 1996 was elected to the Illinois Senate.

Currently without an opponent due to Jack Ryan's own divorce scandal, Obama's support and stature within the Democratic party continues to skyrocket. He has been the subject of a very positive New York Times profile and his appearances on the Sunday morning new programs got high marks, too. He deftly answered tough questions and laid out his views on the issues, as he will in tonight's keynote address.

Stephanie Cutter, Kerry's communications director, explained why they chose Obama, "We believe he represents the future of the party." And clearly, he has the opportunity to help shape the future of the Democratic party. While the party is able to rally around anti-Bush sentiments for the 2004 campaign, that is not the platform on which to build an ongoing legacy. The party's vision for the future needs leaders who have clear ideas and can bring the diverse constituencies together to see those ideas through. As Obama has done in Illinois already, he will be asked to do on a national level if elected to the Senate.

Obama seems to still be in denial of his status as the future of the Democratic party. "Next month, somebody else will be the story, and then I'll be able to just go back to my work," he said. "I think that the constant attention is ephemeral. It's something I'm flattered by, but tend not to take too seriously."

However, many will take him very seriously if he continues to attract voters and impress party leaders as he has done so already. Tonight, might we be watching the first candidate who can cross racial lines, who can appeal to the multi-cultural 21st century America, and become the first minority major-party candidate?

Posted by blipsman at July 27, 2004 11:43 AM