Obama soars leading into Democratic primaries

By Tara Kadioglu

Newspaper endorsements and a recent poll show public support for Barack Obama skyrocketing as of late, indicating that he may win the Democratic candidacy for Illinois senator in the primaries next Tuesday.

Obama received endorsements from the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as three prominent downstate newspapers in late February.  A Chicago Tribune/WGN-Ch. 9 poll reported Monday that 33 percent of Democratic voters support Obama. This reflects a double-digit lead over second-place candidate Dan Hynes, the Illinois Comptroller, who received 19 percent.

Obama, a professor of Constitutional law at the Law School, was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996.

The University of Chicago Students for Obama campaign has worked to get voters to the booths by organizing mass registration drives and distributing literature about Obama. According to Obama supporters, several students will volunteer at campaign headquarters in both South Side and downtown Chicago over the next several days to canvass the streets and help ensure an Obama victory.

If elected in November, Obama would become the only black member of the U.S. Senate. Amrit Mehra, co-chair for Students for Obama, said this fact alone adds to his appeal.

Kristin Greer Love, the other co-chair of Students for Obama, said Obama is the best candidate for the seat. She cited his extensive involvement in community organizing, excellent academic background, and experience with Constitutional law. She also said his commitment to progressive causes—including the environment, women and minority rights, and civil liberties—are assets for him.

“I admire Senator Obama’s unapologetic progressiveness and his sheer intellect, which, frankly, distinguishes him from his opponents, who are machine stock politicos,” Love said.

Brian Karfunkel, a first-year in the College and supporter of Obama, said he is excited about the Tribune poll results. Karfunkel said he supports Obama because “he is the progressive voice in this race, and he will be a prominent progressive voice in the Senate.

“I know he will fight the Bush administration’s efforts to bring this country back to the McKinley era,” Karfunkel added.

“I don’t think it’s hard to see on paper why he is the strongest candidate for the Illinois Senate seat,” Mehra said. “But the reason I think he will win the March 16 election is that he defies many of the conventions that often limit the initial viability of political candidates.”

Mehra said that unlike Hynes and Blair Hull, Obama entered the race without the backing of “the Democratic machine” or great personal wealth to fund his campaign.

According to a Maroon op-ed by Andrew Hammond, Obama spent $4 million on his campaign while Hull used $24 million of his own money.

“He has built his campaign through organizing at the grassroots level and raised more money from out-of-state sources than any other candidate,” Mehra noted. “In fact, even his name is unconventional.”

Mehra said that while Obama is far more progressive on certain issues than his rivals, he is widely admired by both Republicans and Democrats who disagree with him. “It is not in spite of, but because of his unique approach and character that Senator Barack Obama will win the election on March 16,” he said.

Obama’s candidacy has already attracted national media attention (see Carlos Watson for CNN’s The Inside Edge, “Man to Watch in Illinois,” March 10, 2004), and, according to his constituents, promises to attract the attention of the Democratic National Committee if the poll litmus test proves correct and he wins next week.