- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

CHICAGO — Sen.-elect Barack Obama is under no illusions that his superstar status in the Democratic Party will translate into political clout in a Republican-majority Congress.

He is just glad to be there.

For the second time in 12 years, Illinois has given the nation its only black U.S. senator, the first since Carol Moseley Braun lost her re-election bid in 1998. Mr. Obama will be the third black to serve in the Senate since Reconstruction and the fifth in U.S. history.

The self-described “skinny kid with the funny name” rose from relative obscurity as a state senator in Springfield and constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago to Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate with a resounding victory in Illinois’ March primary.

Mr. Obama, 43, catapulted onto the national stage in July with a dramatic keynote speech at an otherwise lackluster Democratic National Convention in Boston.

On Tuesday, he trounced conservative talk-radio host Alan Keyes in a contest that pitted two blacks as major-party Senate candidates for the first time. Mr. Obama won easily with 3,425,074 votes (70 percent), compared with Mr. Keyes’ 1,319,920 (27 percent).

He continued to say the right things as he took the national stage.

“We will not be measured by the margin of our victory. But we will be measured by whether we are able to deliver concrete improvements to the lives of so many people all across the state who are struggling,” he said, thanking 2,000 cheering supporters Tuesday night.

Mr. Obama looked back to the beginning of his campaign 650 days earlier.

“People were respectful, but nevertheless skeptical,” he said. “They felt that in a nation as divided as ours, there was no possibility that someone who looked like me could ever aspire to the United States Senate. They felt that in a fearful nation someone named Barack Obama could never hope to win an election.”

The former civil-rights lawyer morphed into a moderate and made no missteps during a textbook campaign, taking such a huge lead in polls that he was able to leave the state and raise funds for fellow Democrats across the country.

Mr. Obama won 63 percent of the vote in predominately Republican DuPage County. He won big, taking every Chicago ward and township in suburban Cook County.

The biracial Mr. Obama, son of a Kenyan government economist and a white woman from Kansas who met at the University of Hawaii, won in inner-city Chicago, in predominantly Republican suburban counties, in rural downstate counties and in the ethnic enclaves of the blue- and new-collar bungalow belt.

Mr. Obama will have to learn to balance the political demands of his constituents with the mantle of national celebrity. Being in the Senate’s minority party might help him by lowering sky-high expectations.

He called speculation of a future presidential run premature, saying he would focus on what the citizens of Illinois want and try to deliver it.

“Health care is an enormous opportunity for us politically,” he said, thanking voters at Union Station yesterday. “I’m under no illusions that somehow I’m going to be setting the agenda at a national level.”

Illinois’ other senator, Democrat Richard J. Durbin, praised Mr. Obama for remaining focused throughout the campaign.

“As everyone was pulling at him and tugging at him to go to every part of this country, he kept coming back to Illinois, going to small towns and large suburbs, the inner city — he took his campaign to the state of Illinois, and they’ve rewarded him with the Senate seat.”

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