This is probably unfair, but the junior Senator from Illinois got a free ride to the front pages and first sections of network newscasts yesterday after he used the hermetically sealed World Wide Web to announce his exploratory committee. It just seems like a big let down.
Maybe this is good. It gives everyone a chance to sit back and conduct a reality check on Senator Obama.
Campaign Experience: Little to None.
Obama has no real campaign experience.
1996: In his first election, to the Illinois state Senate, he was unopposed in the Democratic primary. This is in Chicago, on the Southside. He won, automatically.
2000: Obama tried to defeat incumbent 1st District Democratic Representative Bobby Rush in the 2000 primary. Rush had the endorsement of the Daley machine and, this is important, then President Bill Clinton. With the establishment behind him, Rush easily beat back Obama, 61% to 30%. This is charitably called a "political misstep."
2004: Some experienced political experts believe Barack Obama is an accidental United States Senator. Why? Because he won the primary and the general election in 2004 after it was learned that his main opponents in each race had been very bad husbands. In the general election, Republican Jack Ryan turned out to have forced his wife to go to sex clubs. He eventually withdrew and was replaced by Alan Keyes, a very conservative African American.
Why does this matter? Because when Barack Obama goes up against Sen. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, among others, he will face experienced candidates and expert staffs. He will not get a free ride.
The last politicians who said they wanted a different kind of politics, Bill Bradley and Sen. John McCain, Democrat and Republican, in 2000, were crushed by the establishment. They offered up reform and positive messages and in return were gutted in the stomach.
Bradley and McCain each had their own peculiarities that hurt them, but they were clear alternatives to business as usual politics and the voters said "thanks, but no thanks."
African American Voters: Up For Grabs.
African American politicians didn't exactly rush to the microphones in support of Obama yesterday. Here are two reasons.
First, these leaders are part of the establishment and the establishment is basically with Hillary Clinton right now. They're hedging their bets, waiting, one political insider says, "to see if she can get her act together." Second, there are other options among the field. In addition to Sen. Clinton, there is John Edwards, who went a long way in 2004 and added to that by announcing his campaign in New Orleans' 9th ward. And then, there's the likely candidacy of Al Sharpton, who offers up an "in your face" style that one strategist says can be useful and appealing.
So Obama doesn't start with a race base. His candidacy will NOT be the Jesse Jackson model. That model, says the University of Maryland's Ron Walters, has a candidate starting on the fringe and moving to the center. Obama starts in the center, and will have to earn the votes of African Americans.
This isn't all bad news for Obama. He'll have enormous advantages in raising money and reaching out to other segments of the electorate. And, it's fascinating.
The New Generation: Will They Vote?
Obama might as well have held a torch in his hand as he made his announcement yesterday, calling for a "new generation" of leadership, almost echoing the words of John Kennedy.
But the new generation of voters is problematic. Very young voters, those between 18 and 29 years old, made up only 17 percent of the general electorate in 2000 and 2004. That translated into under 18 million in 2000 and 20 million in 2004. These voters increased because the total number of voters increased from 2000 to 2004.
But the total number of voters under the age of 45 actually decreased from 2000 to 2004, going from 50 percent of the total vote to 46 percent.
Any practiced political analyst or writer can make numbers say whatever they want them to say. But can these voters be counted on to make a difference for Obama. They aren't a sure bet, in a primary or general election. Unless, that is, they really get fired up.
National Security: Little Experience.
Obama gets a bad rap on national security issues. True, he has almost no experience here, but is two years on the Foreign Affairs Committee really that much less than six years on the Armed Services Committee (Sen. Clinton). I don't think so. If experience in this area counts, then all the Democrats, but Sen. Joe Biden have an issue. True he did stumble through his question today, but at least he was smart enough to issue a well written, thought-out statement later in the afternoon.
And tomorrow is only day three. Yikes!