Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Harkin: Barack Obama could unify nation

Iowa senator’s invite for fall steak fry fuels speculation that young Illinoisan may run for presidency in ’08

By DOUGLAS BURNS Times Herald Staff Writer
With an invitation to keynote his annual steak fry and fund-raiser, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin has fueled speculation about a possible presidential bid by rising political superstar Barack Obama.

U.S. Sen. Obama, D-Ill., who rocketed from relative obscurity to the political stratosphere with a stirring speech to the Democratic Convention in 2004, will headline Harkin’s event on Sept. 17 at the Warren County Fairgrounds.

“I think Barack Obama has a lot of potential in many areas,” Harkin said. “He has the potential of being a great senator, being a unifier in terms of bringing better race relations to this county.”

Added Harkin, “I think he has the potential of giving a better face to America abroad.”
Obama, 44, is the son of a white Kansas woman and Kenyan man.

In a conference call with the Daily Times Herald and other media Harkin said Obama quickly has earned the respect of other senators since being elected in 2004.

“He’s just plainly a nice guy too,” Harkin said. “He doesn’t seem to have a big head or anything like that.”

In a high-profile speech last month to religious progressives Obama said the Democratic Party must do a better job of showing how faith isn’t exclusive to conservative voters. He noted that the major gap in party registration is “between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t.”

“I thought it was profound,” Harkin said of the speech. “I thought it was really sensitive and it’s where a lot of us are in terms of our thinking with morals, politics and religion. He’s charted a good course for everyone, not just Democrats but everyone.”

Harkin said he expects the Obama speech in September to energize Iowans.

“Here’s a guy who went from obscurity two years ago as a state senator in Illinois and now he’s a major spokesman and there’s a lot of buzz about him,” Harkin said. “It will be exciting.”

Several national political observers say the prime Iowa speaking slot could be one of the first steps toward an Obama presidential run.

“Given the wide open field, Obama risks nothing in making such moves,” Professor Gregory Payne of Emerson College in Boston told the Daily Times Herald. “It broadens his credibility and name recognition across the country with such speculation and puts him in a great position for a vice-presidential nomination as the campaign progresses. He has enormous potential given his emerging reputation as an eloquent and reasoned leader of a party in search of itself.”

Allan Saxe, an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington, sees Obama as a likely vice presidential candidate in 2008.

“He would be the first African-American on a major political party nomination ticket, similar to Senator Lieberman breaking new ground in 2000 as the first Jewish person on a major presidential ticket,” Saxe told the Daily Times Herald. “Senator Obama is in his first term as U.S. senator, but he has made a strong impression on a good part of the public.”

Saxe said Obama’s main drawbacks are that he may be perceived as too liberal and has no strong name recognition-yet.

“He is a young, strong, articulate speaker,” Saxe said.

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