Thursday, July 29, 2004

BOSTON — “Barack and Hillary 2008, that’s the ticket.”

Such comments could be heard from delegates on the floor of the Democratic National Convention, charged up after Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama gave a rousing prime-time keynote address on Tuesday night.

Not lost on blacks in the audience was the sense that — like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy passing on his legacy to Sen. John Kerry, both from Massachusetts — Mr. Obama’s elevation as a major player in the party represents a changing of the guard.

At the Democratic National Committee’s Black Caucus meeting yesterday, state officials, lawmakers, delegates and conventioneers could not stop talking about Mr. Obama, 42, the lanky Harvard Law School graduate and U.S. Senate candidate, as a future black leader in the Democratic Party.

“Having been born and raised during the civil rights movement, I think a lot of what we have done here represents a changing of the guard but more importantly how well the guard has prepared and reached out and gotten talent. This is a bold statement,” said Thelma Sias, vice president of We Energies, a utility in Milwaukee.

She pointed out that Mr. Obama is not the only young black politician to make his presence felt here, describing Rep. Kendrick B. Meek of Florida, Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick as part of the new talent.

But last night, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton took their turns at remembering the past and forecasting the future.

Not to be shown up by anyone was Mr. Sharpton, who told President Bush why blacks don’t vote Republican, exhibiting his anger over the 2000 election.

“Mr. President, the reason we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so seriously is our right to vote wasn’t gained because of our age, our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs. … This vote is sacred to us,” Mr. Sharpton said.

He hinted that reparations are the reason blacks vote for Democrats, although Mr. Kerry, the party’s presidential nominee, said he does not support reparations.

“You said the Republican Party was the party of [Abraham] Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is true that Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, after which there was a commitment to give 40 acres and a mule. … We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the 40 acres. We didn’t get the mule. So we decided we’d ride this donkey as far as it would take us,” Mr. Sharpton said to thunderous laughter and applause.

In his speech, Mr. Jackson chronicled 60 years of advancements, from his father’s World War II service in segregated regiments in 1944 to the 1954 Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“To 1984, the Rainbow presidential campaign in San Francisco, and we came alive … 2 million new voters; the Senate in ‘86; the presidency for Bill Clinton in ‘92 and ‘96. And now 2004, Barack Obama symbolizes the line of progress and growth,” Mr. Jackson said.

He also accused the Bush administration of presiding over an “induced coup in Haiti” — the world’s oldest black republic — where several presidents, including Mr. Clinton, have presided over violent shifts in the government’s power structure.

Mr. Jackson spoke in his classic Southern-preacher style to which Democrats are so accustomed and ended with his signature phrase: “Keep hope alive.”

Supporters hope Mr. Obama has what it takes to lead blacks out of the 20th century and into new opportunities in the 21st century.

Donsia Strong Hill, a Chicago native and now Wisconsin’s secretary of the department of regulation and licensing, said she was most impressed with Mr. Obama’s eloquence in speaking about racism without being race-specific.

“I believe that Barack Obama’s speech last night moved us forward exponentially; I mean, he hit one out of the park,” Mrs. Hill said. “I hope this will move other blacks, to go forward, who don’t give politics a second thought.”

The Obama campaign felt the buzz yesterday, saying 300 new volunteers signed up on its Web site after the speech and that the site’s number of hits skyrocketed from 15 per second Tuesday afternoon to 355 per second that night.

To Steven Horsford, 31 — a national committeeman who is running for the state senate in Nevada — Mr. Obama represents hope for his own political dreams.

“He is an incredible leader, and his remarks united our party. He articulated a lot of what young black people in either party who may not have grown up in the civil rights movement who want to know why blacks should get involved in politics,” Mr. Horsford said.

He said he knows firsthand the importance of toning down racial anger and pushing inclusiveness and unity.

“Coming out of Nevada, my job is to get votes for John Kerry, and the black vote is important, but it is only a part of he vote. You have to be able to connect with all constituencies,” Mr. Horsford said.

Mrs. Hill said Mr. Obama represents a formula: “difficult upbringing, but worked hard to get an excellent education and that is what opened the doors.” White observers of Mr. Obama said a diverse educational background plays a major factor in his respectability with voters.

“You can’t undercut the Harvard Law Review” said Don Means, a senior political adviser for, which is providing delegates with Internet services for their Web logs and chat rooms. “He’s one of the most popular people running at the Senate level in our meet-up groups no matter what state.”

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