My thoughts on Obama

A lot of political discussion this week has been over Illinois Senator Barak Obama's admission on Meet the Press that he is seriously considering a run for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008.  The amount of attention this has generated says a lot about Obama and his potential chances.  Democrats are looking for an anti-Hillary and with Mark Warner dropping out there are not too many contendors for that role. 

Obama is a great political candidate who seems to have all the political intangibles that cannot be bought, i.e., charisma, instincts, great speaker, great intellect (though, that one unfortunately does not count for enough politically), etc.  But being a great political candidate is not the same as having a solid political resume.  I love all of Obama's intangibles but less than a full term in the U.S. Senate and time in the Illinois state Senate are far from the ideal credentials for a presidential candidate.  One of the reasons that Mark Warner seemed to have so much promise was that he was a very successful Democratic governor from a red state.  There's just not all that much Obama can do as a Senator to convince voters that he really has what it takes to be president.  If Obama would make a good president I think it is largely because of his intangibles and I don't think another term in the Senate would really make him all that much better prepared.  I personally have a strong bias for former governors– just not from Texas :-)– but I think it is better to have somebody with the right political skills and abilities from the Senate than to have a person lacking the essential political abilities coming from a governor's mansion.

The reason Obama is drawing so much political attention is because he truly has a rare (shall we say, “Clintonian” and I don't mean Hillary) set of political abilites.  Democrats are really hungry for a candidate with that potential superstar appeal that has not existed since Bill Clinton.  As a professional observer of politics, I think it would be fascinating to see how the conflict between his great skills but thin resume would play out in the primaries.  On the one hand, we already saw that to some degree with Edwards in 2004, but I suspect that Obama's tremendous abilities as a speaker give him a leg up on Edwards.  Here's hoping that we'll see. 


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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