Although he has raised less money than
Hynes and will never have as much as Hull, the 41-year-old Obama
does have $1 million in the bank. That’s more than Dick Durbin,
Illinois’ senior Democratic senator, had at the same point
in his first run in 1996.
One prominent Chicago Democrat described Obama as
steadily cobbling together a winning plurality: “He starts
to get in the 30 to 35 percent range and you got to take him seriously
as a bona fide contender.”
That has led to comparisons between 2004 and 1992,
when a little-known Cook County recorder of deeds named Carol Moseley
Braun toppled Sen. Alan Dixon and attorney Al Hofeld in the Democratic
primary and went on to become the first black woman elected to the
As one Democratic congressional aide well versed in
Illinois politics put it: “There are distinct parallels, with
Blair Hull being Al Hofeld and Dan Hynes being Dixon and Obama being
Carol. The difference is Carol was not a serious candidate and thought
this would be an interesting thing to do. I don’t think it
ever entered her head that she would win.”
Obama, most Illinois political observers agree, has
all intentions of winning.
Illinois congressional Democrats who are backing Obama
— Jesse Jackson Jr., Danny Davis and Lane Evans — cite
his intelligence and experience representing Hyde Park in Springfield.
“He’s the only candidate in the race who’s passed
a piece of legislation,” said Jackson.
And, they argue, even though his race will help, Obama’s
not running a race-based campaign. Instead, they portray the constitutional
scholar, who was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review,
as a populist whose concern with healthcare, jobs and the environment
will excite voters well beyond Chicago’s heavily black Southside.
Still, Obama needs a large majority of African American
voters to have any hope of winning the March primary. For now, the
only candidate standing in his way is Joyce Washington, a black
healthcare administrator whom many Illinois Democrats are not taking
seriously even though she’s run statewide before.
Rep. Bobby Rush’s endorsement of Hull last week
also could complicate Obama’s effort to be the “black
candidate.” Some Democrats say the endorsement would only
have mattered had Rush, whose congressional district overlaps with
Obama’s state Senate district, backed Washington.
Obama acknowledged that should he win the Democratic
nomination, the race is likely to take on national significance
given the dearth of black senators. He repeatedly stressed that
there is no color divide when it comes to job creation or Social
“I’m deeply rooted in the African American
community, but I don’t feel limited by the African American
community,” Obama said. “Issues that are of concern
to the African American community are of concern to all Americans.”
Republicans seem to like the idea that Obama is a
sleeper candidate who could emerge from the shadows early next year
and beat Hull, who is expected to spend his fortune attacking Hynes,
and Hynes, who will likely devote his resources to fending off Hull.
That could be because Republicans believe they will
have an easier time beating Obama. “I think it’s hard
for an African American to get elected in southern Illinois,”
said GOP Rep. Ray LaHood, whose downstate district includes Peoria
and part of the state capital of Springfield.
Also casting doubt on Obama’s electability
is his relative inexperience as a three-term state senator.
Hynes can draw on friends and family — his father,
Tom Hynes, runs Chicago’s 19th Ward and sits on the Democratic
National Committee (DNC) — and Hull can launch expensive ad
By contrast, Obama, one supporter observed, has “a
lot of vertical and very little horizontal,” meaning he’s
ascended the party ranks but hasn’t taken the time to build
a base of powerful allies.
What’s more, it may be difficult for Obama to
reach liberals outside Chicago.
“On the lakefront, for example, he doesn’t
have any of the political operation,” Hynes spokeswoman Chris
Mather said. “You’ve got to do more than direct mail,
so he’s got to have the money to go on television. This is
going to be an expensive race. If you got up on television for two
weeks or three weeks, it might not be enough.”
Obama’s supporters concede their candidate will
have a difficult time beating Hull or Hynes, who has an army of
aldermen, committeemen, pre-cinct captains and party activists all
across the state.
But they are convinced that if he’s able to
solidify the black vote and then head downstate he’ll beat
his Democratic rivals and, ultimately, the three major Republicans
in the race: Jack Ryan, Jim Oberweis and Andrew McKenna.
“If this man is nominated, he’ll win by
a landslide,” Evans predicted.
David Wilhelm, a former DNC chairman based in Chicago,
said there are too many unknown variables to say for sure what will
happen in the coming months.
“We won’t know until December what the
field actually looks like,” Wilhelm said.
“Does Joyce Washington stay in the race? Does
Hull’s early advertising get any traction? Is Dan Hynes the
kind of candidate that his supporters hope and believe that he will
be? Can Obama solidify the African American base of support even
as he reaches out to others?”