Springfield State Journal Register

July 15, 2004

Obama to give keynote address


WASHINGTON - With his compelling life story and good chance at becoming only the third African-American in the U.S. Senate in a century, state Sen. Barack Obama has been chosen to deliver the keynote address of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

"Barack is an optimistic voice for America and a leader who knows that together we can build an America that is stronger at home and respected in the world," Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said in a statement issued by his campaign Wednesday.

Obama is scheduled to speak on July 27, the second night of the convention, along with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

The highly visible spot at the convention is expected to give a boost to Obama, who was leading in statewide polls even before his Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, dropped out of the race after the release of divorce records that contained embarrassing sex club allegations.

A replacement for Ryan on the Nov. 2 ballot still has not been determined.

The announcement of Obama's convention role came as the Kerry camp launched a $2 million ad campaign targeting black voters. Campaign officials have emphasized that 39 percent of the delegates to the convention are minorities, more than ever before.

Political analysts said spotlighting Obama is more about helping the Democratic Party than about helping Obama.

"Barack Obama is seen as one of the brightest young lights in the Democratic Party, a black with broad, biracial appeal, who's young and attractive and articulate. That's just too good to resist for the Kerry campaign," said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution.

Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst for the non-partisan political newsletter The Cook Report, cautioned "these things carry risk, too. He's got to give a strong speech ... we all remember the Bill Clinton speech."

Clinton delivered the 1988 speech at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. That speech was widely criticized as too long and rambling.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Dan Allen downplayed the significance of Obama's convention assignment.

"It's not surprising to us," he said. "I think he has a very liberal record, and he'll fit in quite nicely at the Democratic National Convention."

The biracial son of a Kenyan father and American mother, Obama graduated from Columbia University in New York and received his law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was the first black president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.

He worked as a civil rights lawyer and now lectures on constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. As a state senator, he represents Chicago's South Side and heads the state Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.