Tuesday, August 31, 2004
"A skinny kid with a funny name" brought his fund-raising efforts to Jackson today, speaking at a multi-racial fund-raising breakfast at Mikhail's Northgate. Democratic star Barack Obama, a state senator on Chicago's South Side who is running for U.S. Senate in Illinois, says he knows people will ask why he has come to Mississippi. "This is the south side of Chicago, granted the very south side, but everyone has connections to Mississippi," said the 42-year-old constititional law professor. Moreover, he said, Americans should believe that everyone in the country is connected. "If a child can't read in Mississippi, then that affects me, even if it is not my child," he said.
Obama also talked about his opponent, ultra-conservative Republican Alan Keyes, who is moving to Illinois from Maryland in order to challenge Obama, the son of a black goat herder from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. "We want to beat him bad," he said of Keyes. "But I will not sink to his level, using negative campaigning and mud-slinging that has become a part of politics in the Capitol." In lieu of negativity, Obama urged African Americans and Democrats in general to get together and work for the things they believe in. "We need to kick off our house slippers and put on our marching boots," Obama said to cheers. He said that a lot of people have just lost faith in the system and don't bother to vote, and that faith needs to be restored.
State Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Dowdy told the crowd of about 100 that he would call Obama a rising star, except for the fact that "he is already one of the shining lights in our constellation." Dowdy also eluded to the possibility that Obama might be headed to the White House some day. "Now, Senator, after you make it in the Capitol, maybe we can convince you to move a little west to that house on Pennsylvania Avenue," Dowdy said.
From the beginning of his political journey, Obama has surprised the public with his ability to find common ground among the variety of people he encounters. Obama says that people ask, "Who is going to vote for someone named Obama or 'Yo mama'?" Most people, he believes. "The experts said that if I won I would get 90 percent of the African-American vote and 10 percent of the white liberal vote, many of whom I see here today. But we did win (the primary) with, yes, 90 percent of the black vote—and we won the white vote, too!" Obama said.
Obama, who is married to an attorney and has two children under 6, also touched on serious domestic issues that are affecting the country under its present administration. "People should not have to go bankrupt when they get sick," he said. "Every child with the will and the intelligence to go to college should be able to, no matter how much money they have. This is the first time since Herbert Hoover that our country has been in such a large employment deficit." In his own state of Illinois, he said, 200,000 jobs have been lost under the Bush administration.
As a part of his campaign platform, Obama has proposed a national network of teaching academies to add 25,000 new teachers to high-need urban and rural schools, and has strategies to work with students who cannot afford it but want to go to college. Also, he announced the proposal of a program that will help bring good-paying jobs to Illinois, to help decrease the over-$5,000 decline in average family income in the state.
At the conclusion of the program, the audience was allowed to come up, shake hands with and get autographs from the senatorial hopeful. Nearly all of the estimated 100 people there lined up and waited patiently for their minute conference with Obama.
Obama was originally scheduled to visit Jackson several weeks ago, but Keyes announced his candidacy the day before, and Obama cancelled the appearance in order to speak with the media in Illinois. Attorney and restaurant owner Isaac Byrd arranged the Obama visit and fund-raising event.
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