News Release: Politics

Jun. 13,  2008

Obama Faces Challenges on Race, Rumors And Leadership in Presidential Campaign

As Sen. Barack Obama moves forward with his campaign for the U.S. Presidency, he will now confront race in myriad ways, both explicit and implicit, says Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie.

"I would expect 527 organizations sympathetic to Sen. John McCain to push the envelope in terms of racial priming, and I would not be surprised if there weren't another major racial episode during the course of this campaign, though I hope this doesn't happen," says Gillespie.

"To combat the underground attacks and the whisper campaigns, Obama must address these issues head-on. The Obama campaign understands this, and have launched a Web site to counter scurrilous gossip," says Gillespie. "If Obama lets rumors fester, especially those with racial undertones, they will undermine his candidacy. However, these rumors need to be repudiated on the campaign trail and in the media as well, to ensure that such corrections reach voters who won't log onto the anti-smear Web site."

Gillespie offers the following analysis of the other challenges Obama should expect to face:

Obama must introduce himself to the American public at large:

He will need to convince voters that he shares the same values as Americans around the country, despite his exotic pedigree -- not just his biracial background and international upbringing but also the fact that people don't typically think of blacks as being Ivy League-educated.

Obama needs to appear presidential:

Obama, like his post-racial black peers who serve in state and local offices, has cultivated a reputation for being affable and non-confrontational. While Obama did not shy away from confronting Hillary Clinton toward the end of the primary, he still needs to prove that he can make tough decisions quickly, even if people are not happy with him.

To some, his protracted decision to distance himself from Jeremiah Wright and then to completely sever ties with Trinity Church is evidence of the fact that he tried to please all people. As some of his colleagues have learned the hard way, this is not always possible, explains Gillespie.

Obama cannot be all things to all people and expect to win:

There will be instances where he will have to choose between being strategic and diplomatic and being principled. His first test is likely his vice-presidential choice. While he has no doubt felt pressure to make Hillary Clinton his VP nominee, he has to think not just about whether she can help him get elected. He has to think about how she will help or hinder his administration.

Deciding how to deal with Hilary Clinton:

Obama can very well decide that Clinton is an asset to the ticket and the administration. However, if he believes that Clinton cannot be a long-term team player, he should select another running mate, and stand resolute against the criticism and outcry from her supporters. That's what presidents do, and voters will respect him for it.

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