Will Mr. Obama Go To Washington?

Illinois state legislator seeks to become only black U.S. senator

In the upcoming months, all eyes will be on the presidential competition. However, the stakes are high in the race for the former U.S. Senate seat of presidential candidate Carol Moseley Braun, as Democratic state Sen. Barack Obama attempts to become the nation’s only black U.S. senator. If elected, he would be the first-ever black male Democratic senator and the first black male senator since Republican Edward Brooke of Massachusetts was elected in 1966.

Obama, who represents Illinois’ 13th District on Chicago’s South Side, faces eight opponents in a hotly contested Democratic primary next month. According to local news polls, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and State Comptroller Dan Hynes are the front-runners by slight margins. Other candidates include: millionaire investment broker Blair Hull; lawyer and former school board president Gery Chico; radio talk show host Nancy Skinner; and healthcare executive Joyce Washington (who is also African American).

Since announcing his candidacy in January 2003, Obama has raised $2 million, surprising many political analysts who expected him to have trouble raising funds. The first African American president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama has a strong record when it comes to supporting minority-owned businesses, which is why some black business leaders are working overtime to send the 41-year-old senator to Washington.

John Rogers, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Ariel Capital Management (No. 1 on the BE ASSET MANAGERS list with $10.3 billion in assets under management), has contributed $9,000 to Obama’s campaign. Lou Holland, managing partner and chief investment officer of Chicago-based Holland Capital Management (No. 11 on the BE ASSET MANAGERS list with $1.3 billion in assets under management), has contributed $12,000. Obama has the backing of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the state’s second-largest teacher’s union; the Illinois Council of Service Employees International Union; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley.

Obama’s chances of winning will also depend in part on his success in mobilizing Illinois’ black working class, says Melissa V. Harris-Lacewell, assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago. “He’s got to find a way to make [the primary] important to people who wouldn’t normally turn out [to vote].”

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