NEWS

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February 17, 2004

Obama prepares to run for U.S. Senate

With the Democratic primaries one month away, U.S. Senate candidate and law school lecturer Barack Obama is wasting no time making sure the voters remember his name.

Obama, a 43-year-old state senator and a senior lecturer in constitutional law, is one of seven candidates running in the March 16 Democratic primary to take up the seat of retiring Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL). If elected, Obama would become the third black U.S. senator elected by popular vote.

Obama's life has been shaped by a sense of activism. The son of a Kenyan politician and a white anthropologist, he moved to Chicago in his twenties to organize community programs in project neighborhoods because he felt unfulfilled with his life as a Manhattan office clerk.

He later attended Harvard law school and then returned to Chicago to start a law practice. He successfully ran for the Illinois Senate in 1997, advocating social justice in the political system. Obama's current senatorial campaign grew out of this belief in the need for change and his opposition to the GOP-controlled Senate.

Obama's dedication to advancing liberal policies and correcting social injustice has endeared him to many supporters on the South Side. His presence has been particularly strong in Hyde Park, with street corners and windows decorated with his campaign posters.

"His support in the South Side is extensive," said Audra Wilson, Obama's press secretary at his downtown headquarters. "His popularity is extremely high right now; if you look at his website, the list of endorsements from the black community is large and continues to grow. He's mobilized the black community behind him through his hard work and devotion to their problems."

Wilson said some of the many endorsements Obama has received are from organizations such as Illinois' largest Teamsters union, Local 705 in Chicago, the New Trier Democratic Organization, the Sierra Club, the Jewish Political Alliance of Illinois, and prominent black political and religious leaders, such as Reverend Jesse Jackson and his son, U.S. representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL).

Obama boasts impressive credentials: at Harvard Law, he was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, and he is now a prominent member of the Public Health and Welfare Committee and the Judiciary and Revenue Committee in the Illinois Senate.

Charisma has also aided Obama in his quest for the Senate. At a forum last January, Obama drew strong support when he proclaimed that Americans are inherently good people whose need for decency evokes change.

Cass Sunstein, a professor of jurisprudence at the law school and one of Obama's colleagues, said Obama's magnetism, wit, and determination are valuable assets for anyone running for office.

"I think he's wonderful—extremely sharp, learned, excellent on a wide range of issues, balanced, a terrific listener, a born leader, easy to get along with," Sunstein said. "He's been a sensational teacher at the law school, admired by students and faculty alike —a particularly impressive achievement given the many demands on his time. On day one, he'd be as expert on the Constitution as anyone in either house of Congress. He'd be a truly extraordinary legislator."

Obama's campaign for the U.S. Senate demonstrates his firm commitment to progressivism. His website, Obamaforillinois.com, showcases his dedication to providing social services to working class and lower income families. Obama wants to provide more educational options to working families, including opening up charter schools and other innovative models. He has also sought to extend health care coverage to the elderly and uninsured.

Obama's liberal platform also includes: a living wage for all workers; defense of civil liberties, particularly in the state penal system; and improving welfare programs such as Medicare and Head Start, which he says the Bush Administration has recently targeted to support funding cuts.

While voters will decide on Obama's future next month, his influence has been positively reflected in polls. According to Wilson, the latest polls conducted by Channel 2 CBS show Obama in a three-way tie with businessman Blair Hull and state comptroller Steve Hynes, far above the other four candidates in the primary.