- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The 2008 road to the White House is filled with pitfalls for senators; specifically, their voting records — a particularly acute problem for Democrats who approved the Iraq war.

But Sen. Barack Obama has served in the Senate for only two years, and some analysts say the Illinois Democrat’s lack of a voting record may uniquely benefit his presidential campaign.

“Everyone thinks that he agrees with them or that they agree with him because he does not have an extensive record to play against, and he is a really good listener,” said Stephen Hess, professor of political science at George Washington University and senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

But Mr. Obama’s record is longer in the Illinois state Senate, where he served for eight years. There, he co-authored bills extending tax benefits to low-income families, making health insurance more affordable, and increasing funding for AIDS prevention and care programs.

“He inspires hope that we can get past the days of bickering and fighting that [have] controlled the debate in Washington, and I think he has proven he can work across party lines,” said Seth Tobey, a University of Iowa law student who founded Independents for Obama.

However, Mr. Obama has little hope of swaying pro-life advocates because he has made his pro-choice views very clear and voted accordingly. For example, he once voted against a state Senate bill to provide medical care to unborn babies who survive an abortion, saying it would create a loophole to make abortion illegal.

Likewise, gun rights advocates view Mr. Obama as a threat, but concede there are some things in his voting record that make him less unattractive than the other Democrats in the race.

“He was consistently an F rating when he ran for [the U.S.] Senate and when he was in the state Senate,” said Chris W. Cox, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. “Basically, after all the talk recently about Obama and Hillary [Rodham Clinton], they do have one thing in common and that is the zeal with which they have supported the gun-control movement.”

While in the state Senate, Mr. Obama voted against a bill that would have allowed self-defense to be used as a mitigating argument against charges of illegal firearms possession in cases where a person shot a home intruder using a banned handgun. Mr. Obama said it would effectively override the local government’s authority — particularly Chicago, portions of which he represented — to limit guns in its jurisdiction.

Mr. Cox said Mr. Obama also will need to explain his opposition to the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protected gun manufacturers and dealers from frivolous lawsuits, and his vote in support of a ban on certain types of deer-hunting ammunition.

Mr. Cox did soften his tone somewhat when asked to compare Mr. Obama to his chief rival, Mrs. Clinton, as well as other Democratic presidential candidates, noting his vote in favor of allowing retired police and military officers to carry concealed weapons.

“He did support the bill to stop the post-[Hurricane] Katrina gun-confiscation legislation, which passed 84-16, but Hillary Clinton voted against it as one of the 16,” he said.

But the biggest issue dogging the leading candidates from both parties is the vote authorizing what Mr. Obama has called the “stupid war” in Iraq.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has nearly doubled his lead in the past month over his chief Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a supporter of the war, and Mrs. Clinton has lost some momentum in the polls as voters on the campaign trail have repeatedly asked her to explain her vote authorizing the war.

All the while, Mr. Obama has been able to call himself the first to oppose the war, with little retort from his rivals.

“He is a natural candidate, and he is a lot like John F. Kennedy in that he was a lightweight politically, but ended up winning the presidency, and I think Barack can do the same thing,” said Morris L. Reid, managing director of Westin Rinehart, a political communications firm. “He will put the time in and roll up his sleeves and, I think, will prove the naysayers wrong.”

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