Obama's First Foray Into National Politics

The New York Times, in A Streetwise Veteran Schooled Young Obama, details Barack Obama's unsuccessful attempt in 1999 to challenge Bobby Rush, a popular incumbent congressman and former Black Panther from the South Side of Chicago. Obama was in upscale Hyde Park.

The episode revealed a lot about Senator Obama — now running for president, against the odds again and with a relatively slim résumé. It showed his impatience with the frustrations of his state Senate job; his outsize confidence; his fund-raising powers; his broad appeal; and his willingness to be what Abner J. Mikva, a former congressman and supporter, calls “a very apt student of his own mistakes.”


“He was blinded by his ambition,” Mr. Rush said. “Obama has never suffered from a lack of believing that he can accomplish whatever it is he decides to try. Obama believes in Obama. And, frankly, that has its good side but it also has its negative side.”

One talent of Obama's emerged from that race: raising money:

He raised more than $500,000 — less than Mr. Rush but impressive for a newcomer — tapping connections at the University of Chicago, Harvard Law School, law firms where he had worked, and a network of successful, black, Chicago-based entrepreneurs who have played an important role in subsequent campaigns.

President Clinton ended up endorsing Bobby Rush:

Mr. Rush won the primary with 62 percent of the vote; Mr. Obama had less than 30 percent. Mr. Obama was favored by whites but lost among blacks, Mr. Lester said. Looking back, some say the magnitude of the loss reflected Mr. Obama’s failure to connect with black, working-class voters. Mr. Mikva said, “It indicated that he had not made his mark in the African-American community and didn’t particularly have a style that resonated there.”

Obama was luckier in his next race, for U.S. Senate. By then, he had changed his strategy from focusing on issues to focusing on "hope."

“There was a gradual progression of Barack Obama from thoughtful, earnest policy wonk/civil rights lawyer/constitutional law expert to Barack Obama the politician, the inspirer, the speaker.” Denny Jacobs, a friend of Mr. Obama and a former state senator, agreed. “He stumbled on the fact that instead of running on all the issues, quote unquote, that hope is the real key,” he said. “Not only the black community but less privileged people are looking for that hope. You don’t have to talk about health care, you have to talk about ‘the promise’ of health care. Hope is a pretty inclusive word. I think he is very good at selling that.”

Obama won big in his first Senate race:

Mr. Obama won the general election with the biggest margin ever in an Illinois Senate race.

....He vanquished a field of multimillionaires, some more experienced and better known, and benefited from fortuitous domestic scandals that sidelined two opponents and left him facing a Republican widely seen as unable to win.

The LA Times also examines Barack Obama's record in Obama: a fresh face or an old-school tactician? It begins:

Now, promoting himself as a fresh face on the national political stage, proclaiming his distance from lobbyists and the Washington culture of special interests, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has to contend with his own history.
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    Love is the morning and the evening star (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by robrecht on Sun Sep 09, 2007 at 07:39:22 AM EST
    Is there a subtle hint of flim-flam man being  being suggested here?

    Where? (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Sep 09, 2007 at 10:35:05 AM EST
    In the articles or in my post? I did not intend any such hint in my post.

    Don't you just love Elmer Gantry? (none / 0) (#5)
    by robrecht on Sun Sep 09, 2007 at 11:10:57 AM EST
    If it's there I would expect it to come from the NYT piece, especially the part about the new found focus on hope, but I haven't found time to read it.  I do think most successful politicians are usually susceptible to this charge.

    Hope smope (none / 0) (#1)
    by koshembos on Sun Sep 09, 2007 at 01:28:56 AM EST
    Running on hope is an insult to many. Even the Republicans, who are major league sloganeer, don't run on hope but rather on several racist winks and nodes and belief in flat earth and not hope.

    Obama's true beliefs are an enigma, but it's clear that his advisers decided to run a not-Dean campaign. Edwards doesn't seem able to ignite the fire and the Democrats lack a solid middle of the road left wing candidate. We don't need another almost centrist. Obama is a charismatic and bold Hillary and this is unfortunate.

    Still (none / 0) (#3)
    by aahpat on Sun Sep 09, 2007 at 09:21:34 AM EST
    Barack Obama: A Stereotype of Conventional Wisdom

    Last month, after his appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I wrote the above linked piece about Obama. It really irritated me that he is running as a challenger of conventional wisdom but all of his policies and politics are conventional status quo policies and politics. This New York Times piece, I believe, reaffirms my position.

    Obama can never represent the values and issues important to poverty and politically oppressed urban America.