A Refresher on Obama's Senate Race

(CBS)
From CBS News National Correspondent Dean Reynolds, who's covering the Obama campaign:

Barack Obama likes to tout his electability before the large crowds he draws here in Iowa. The statement is supposed to draw a contrast with Sen. Hillary Clinton who, polls show, has very high negatives among the electorate. Obama recalls carrying some of the "reddest" districts in his Illinois Senate race back in 2004. While it is true that Obama won in a landslide, his opponents had a lot to do with it.

A little history.

Obama won the Democratic Party senatorial primary after one of the leading candidates imploded in a mess of divorce papers strategically leaked by his ex-wife.

Obama then faced the Republican Party challenger, Jack Ryan, a tall, good-looking, wealthy guy who spent time teaching at inner city schools after making his fortune. Unfortunately for Ryan, he also spent time frequenting some shady bars in Paris where live sex acts were apparently part of the draw. Nor did it help that Ryan's ex-wife alleged that he urged her to participate in said acts when they were married.

Ryan, after first stating that he had no intention of withdrawing from the race, changed his mind and left after the party hierarchy abandoned him.

Then the party was left with no candidate and began plumbing the shallows for someone to run against Obama, who by then was something of a political rock star after his spectacular oration at the Democratic Party national convention in Boston. No one raised a hand.

The Illinois Republican Party has been in something of a valley for the past few years and it was no surprise that party chieftains had a hard time coming up with someone willing -- and able -- to make a race of it.

It turned out that no Republican from Illinois wanted to.

So the party looked ... and looked... and finally found somebody -- in Maryland.

Alan Keyes, the perennial presidential candidate. An African-American in the Clarence Thomas mold. Conservative and pro-life, Keyes could also give one heckuva speech. Unfortunately, very few people wanted to hear him.

Yes, he moved to an apartment in Calumet City to show his -- not very deep -- Illinois roots. Frankly, Keyes could have moved into the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue in Chicago and it would not have helped. He lost the election. Big time, as Dick Cheney might put it.

So when Barack Obama talks about electability, one should know that he has not really been tested.
  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.

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