Barack Obama for President?

In front of the Old State Capitol of Illinois where President Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Illinois Senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States.

Thousands of cheering supporters–multiethnic, young and old, blue collar and professional–braved the piercing cold to witness a piece of history. Obama’s announcement, though anticipated for weeks, set in motion what could be one of the most heated and captivating presidential races in the nation’s history–one that could make him the country’s first African American president.

“I think he makes it very interesting. Barack has thrown a real wringer into the race for both Republicans and Democrats because he presents himself as a very credible candidate, and I think that’s important,” says former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, a Republican, who is now a political analyst on CNN.

In a speech invoking a spirit of “we” and infused with the sentiment that it’s time for us to “take back” the country, Sen. Obama, who has been against the war from its outset, has promised to present a noble yet arguably idealistic plan to have troops out of Iraq by March 2008. His platform includes universal healthcare by the end of his first term, better pay for teachers, job training for the unemployed, union support, and the use of
alternative fuels to address global warming.

“This campaign can’t only be about me. It must be about us; it must be about what we can do together. This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle of your hopes and your dreams,” Obama asserted. “It will take your time, your energy, and your advice, to push us forward when we’re doing right and to let us know when we’re not. This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.”

“Obama has a voice that resonates with people. He inspires hope. He’s the John Kennedy of our era,” says Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Ill.), who served in the state legislature with Obama from 2002 to 2004.

Riding a media bonanza that has included his best-selling book The Audacity of Hope, and having received the financial support of such Democratic power brokers as billionaire George Soros and Hollywood insiders like Barbra Streisand, Obama is well-positioned to be a serious contender for the Democratic nomination. Yet one of Obama’s biggest challenges over the coming months will be to introduce himself to the world beyond Illinois and the political circles that are already familiar with him.

According to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, Obama has made a quick and favorable impression but is largely unknown to Democratic voters. At press time, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads the race with 39% of the vote, followed by Obama with 17% and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina in third with 12%.

“I wouldn’t call the fact that many people don’t know Obama an obstacle for him,” says David Bositis, Ph.D.,