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

state law enforcement agencies. The bill also required a videotaped confessions in murder cases. And while Obama doesn’t have statistics that chart the results of his bill since being signed into law, the ACLU applauded his effort to make law enforcement agencies in Illinois keep track of all traffic stops and the race of the individual. Obama was also one of the few candidates to publicly oppose the war in Iraq.

Win or lose in next month’s election, Obama represents a new form of leadership. For more than three decades, black political leadership has largely been tied to civil rights activism, with two distinguishable traits: a willingness to agitate with firebrand conviction and the ability to mobilize large groups of blacks behind a common cause. Today’s black politicians, however, talk less about equal access and more about education and economic opportunities, viewing themselves as coalition builders and economic developers seeking to appeal to broad constituencies and abandoning rhetoric that would tag them as liberals. It’s a group that includes former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who ran an unsuccessful Senate campaign in 2002, and Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee, who is expected to make a run for the Senate in 2006.

It’s Rogers of Ariel Capital Management who sums up Obama best: “If you’re a leader and you care about people, you’re going to reach out beyond your local community and help people nationally. I think Barack will be an extraordinary national leader. Dr. King was able to fill an enormous void with his extraordinary gifts. There is an enormous void in this country and Rev. Jackson can’t fill it all. We need other strong dynamic leaders who can be a voice for the voiceless. I think it’s our responsibility that all of us who are privileged and given the opportunity to, reach back and help bring others up. And Barack does it extraordinarily well.”

As Obama’s campaign motorcade meanders through country roads and small towns, we come to a stop on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. It’s early evening, and the sun starts to disappear behind the trees. Inside the SIU Student Center, an estimated crowd of 600 conservative Illinois residents are waiting for Obama’s entrance. For Obama, inside are more people to reach and more voters to sway. And it’s one step closer to Washington.
–Additional reporting by Joyce Jones & Stephanie Young

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