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by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Obama Likely To Be Senate's Only Black For Years To Come

(PNS) -- Even Despite What Oprah Says, Obama Isn't the Right Tonic for Democrats before Oprah Winfrey cheer-led for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on Larry King Live, "Obama for President 2008" bumper stickers, mugs and T-shirts were already hot-ticket sellers on the Internet. Chat rooms pulse with talk of an Obama presidential run and Chicago papers are speculating on the prospects of an Obama candidacy. Though Obama hasn't said anything about his plans, the Democratic Party's newest telegenic, shining star has to be flattered by the clamor. But that's all the attention should be -- flattery.

Obama is not the shot in the arm the Democrats need to take back Congress and the White House in 2008. He is too new on the political scene, too untested, too politically nice, too liberal and, most of all, he's an African-American. Those factors make it virtually impossible for Obama to pry one, let alone two states away from the Southern Republican bloc.

The solid South -- that is, the South that is mostly white, conservative, male, pro-war and anti-big government -- vehemently opposes any political tilt to minorities and is heavily influenced by ultra-conservative Bible Belt fundamentalism. These political attributes are the exact antithesis of Obama's political appeal, pitch and thrust (despite his tepid plea for the Dems to court the Christian fundamentalists). The Southern strategy has proved to be a winning formula for GOP presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr.

A presidential candidate also must raise mega-millions, get their party's official stamp and appeal to conservative, white middle-class voters outside the South. Obama showed in his Senate race in Illinois in 2004 that he can corral the big bucks. During the campaign he raised a record $4 million in a three-month span. But that was a state race. A presidential bid is far different. To prove that he's a viable candidate and bag the money, he must preach a centrist, conservative message of family values, tax fairness and military preparedness. He simply hasn't been on the political scene long enough to sell that message and open the money spigots. And he'd need every penny he could get. The Republican contender will have a united party behind him (or her) and have mountains of cash.

Obama won't send conservative evangelical Christians scurrying to the barricades to defeat him. That dubious distinction, if Jerry Falwell's recent "devil" reference to Hillary Clinton is to be believed, belongs to her. But evangelical Christians will be hyper-wary of him, a liberal and African-American.

Obama did reasonably well in neutralizing if not totally breaking down the reservations of many whites in Illinois to vote for a black candidate. But his opponent was the lightly regarded, fill-in outsider, Alan Keyes, who also is an African-American. Many Republicans in the state sat that one out. It will be a far different story if Obama hits the national campaign trail. While polls show that more whites than ever are willing to vote for a black candidate for state and local offices, there is yet no evidence that openness extends to a black candidate for the presidency.

In fact, white males more than any other group have bought the Republican's anti-government, anti-liberal line. Bush bagged more than 60 percent of the white male vote in 2004. The percentage of the white male vote that a white male Republican candidate likely will get won't change much in 2008. If Obama is the Democrat of choice, that percentage the Republican might get might jump even higher. Colin Powell found that out when he briefly toyed with a presidential run in 1996. Despite his enormous popularity and crossover appeal, he ultimately decided not to run, and one of the reasons was his concern that race would be an issue and a liability.

The Republicans will likely pour millions into beefing up their diversity pitch among blacks and Latinos. They will tout Bush's minority business, homeownership and education initiatives as a better deal for minorities than anything the Democrats have to offer. That claim won't convince the majority of blacks to vote Republican. But it could pare down the number that dash to the polls to vote for Obama. Even if Obama got the overwhelming majority of black votes, which is likely, that's not terribly significant. Any Democrat who runs will do just as well with black voters.

The Democrats' hopes of retaking the White House rest on their ability to find a white male candidate populist enough to convince a significant number of swing state voters that a Democrat in the White House is a real alternative to the GOP policies on the war, the economy, health care, immigration and energy issues. He also should be centrist enough to convince them that he is as tough on terrorism and as big an advocate of a strong military as the GOP.

That's a tall order. Obama is not the man that can fill it, at least not in 2008.

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Albion Monitor   September 28, 2006   (

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