Favorite Son

Barack Obama, America's latest political star, is expected to become the next black U.S. senator. Could his victory put him on the path to the White

Obama victory would move the Senate Democrats–at present outnumbered 51 to 48–one seat closer to a majority. This year also marks the first time Democrats have the possibility of gaining control of the Senate, with strong Democratic hopefuls in Southern states like South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana.

As it stands, Illinois doesn’t look good for Republican challenger Alan Keyes, who entered the race in August. He was hastily chosen by the GOP after a tabloid scandal knocked the former Republican candidate, Jack Ryan, out of the race. Ryan, 44, is a Wilmette native and a Goldman Sachs investment banker who dropped out of the race in late June when unsealed portions of his 1999 divorce case revealed claims from his former wife, actress Jeri Ryan, that Ryan took her to sex clubs and tried to talk her into having public sex with him. The story came at a time when the challenger was trailing Obama in the polls by 20 points. Obama’s only comment was that Ryan’s divorce documents were “not a campaign issue.”

In 1988 and 1992, Keyes unsuccessfully sought a Senate seat in Maryland, earning 38% and 29% of the vote, respectively. However, according to published reports, his credibility suffered when the media learned in 1992 that he had paid himself a salary of $8,500 a month from his campaign funds. He later sought the Republican presidential nomination, earning 4% of the vote in the Illinois presidential primary election in 1996 and 9% in 2000. Four years ago, the native New Yorker criticized Sen. Hillary Clinton for moving to another state for political reasons. In August, Keyes moved from Darnestown, Maryland, to Calumet City, Illinois, to set up temporary residence for his campaign. Keyes told CNN that he justified his move as “responding to the people of Illinois who have asked me to come and help them with a crisis situation.”

Although Obama refuses to respond to negative pols, Donna B
razile, political consultant and Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign manager, says at some point Bush and the Republican machine will descend on Illinois to try to derail him. “Therefore, he will need the active support of John Kerry and the rest of the Democratic Party. There is no question that the era of electing black power candidates is over. Now you’re electing individuals who have expanded their power base and are looking at larger goals. I think Barack’s positioning in the race will suit him well to become a leading voice of African American issues, as well as American causes that African Americans should be a part of. He has his pulse on the real issues facing voters this fall. Nobody thought he would come out of that primary alive, given that he had two [rivals] who had a great deal of gravitas, but he came out more than OK.” He came out strong and well positioned.

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) remembers talking about Obama’s long-shot candidacy a year ago with Democrats in Washington, D.C. They all expected Illinois

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