Fresh faces in political race

This week, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. took a step into the upcoming presidential race.

In a video posted on his Web site, Obama announced the creation of a presidential exploratory committee, making it all but certain that he will run in 2008.

Also expected to enter the race is Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., considered the undeclared front-runner of the Democratic ticket.

With Obama and Clinton in the spotlight, many wonder if 2008 will see an African-American or female president.

“I’m cynical,” Ethnic Studies instructor Patrick Hill said. “But at the same time, I think the rules have changed fundamentally because society’s trust has been violated. Maybe people are more open to new ideas.”

An Oct. 2006 Gallup Poll found that six in 10 Americans polled felt the country was ready for a female president, and more than five in 10 felt the country was ready for a black president, making their race and gender less of an issue.

“I don’t think that race and gender will affect them much. You only need a slim majority and if the majority of Americans are open to the idea, then it shouldn’t be a major issue,” said Patrick McDermott, freshman and political science major.

But whether Obama or Clinton actually win is not so easily answered. Both candidates have assets and weaknesses.

“(With Obama,) race will be an issue, but his inexperience will be a bigger issue,” Political Science professor Melissa Miller said.

Obama is only two years into his first Senate term, and though he won by a landslide, his original Republican opponent dropped out four months before the election over sex club allegations.

That was his first and only statewide campaign.

But the 45-year-old senator’s appeal is undeniable.

“We had booked the Rolling Stones until we realized that Barack Obama would sell more tickets!” joked New Hampshire Governor John Lynch as he introduced him at an event late last year.

Despite the election being nearly two years away, Obama has been in the limelight ever since a stirring speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

But Clinton’s prospects remain strong. Her name recognition, fund-raising ability and experience should not be underestimated.

“She has the experience nationally that Obama doesn’t and she’s in a very high profile position,” Miller said.

But her years in the spotlight have proven her to be a divisive figure, as loathed as she is liked. According to a Rasmussen Reports poll from Oct.2006, while 44 percent of Americans held favorable opinions of Clinton, 39 percent said they would definitely vote against her if she were on the Democratic presidential ticket.

According to Miller, Obama and other presidential hopefuls are presenting themselves as alternatives to Hillary, who some Democrats fear would diminish their chances of taking the White House.

Obama’s youth and relative inexperience may very well be an asset.

“He’s that fresh face people are looking for,” Miller said.

2008 will be characterized by issues, perceived character and probably vicious, counter-productive partisan mud-slinging, not race or gender.

So as the presidential campaign takes shape over the next year, musician Neil Young has already foretold the coming political climate in “Looking for a Leader”: “We’re lookin’ for a leader ” And I hope he hears the call. And maybe it’s a woman, or a black man after all.”