ATLANTA (NNPA) – The eyes of the people at Gate A15 at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta were focused in one direction – and that was not on the flight monitor.
Heads were turned upward, ears straining to hear the TV set hanging from the ceiling. On the screen the figures showed that Barack Obama had just defeated Hillary Clinton 55 percent to 27 percent in South Carolina's Democratic Primary with John Edwards hanging in with 18 percent.
"In the South where we were lynched?… My God," marveled Tracie Powell, a middle-aged Black accountant on her way home to Maryland. "If the slave masters could only wake up and see this."
Another woman, 27-year-old Stacy Stewart, a copyright lawyer from from the South American nation of Trinidad & Tobago, quickly switched seats in order to get closer to the TV.
"The way the U.S. is viewed today around the world will change," she predicted in an interview. "Also, he will not only bring hope to the U. S., but around the world."
Joined on stage by his wife, Michelle, the voice of the man who would be America's first Black president boomed throughout the terminal and in homes across America:
"Over two weeks ago, we saw the people of Iowa proclaim that our time for change has come. But there were those who doubted this country's desire for something new – who said Iowa was a fluke not to be repeated again. Well, tonight, the cynics who believed that what began in the snows of Iowa was just an illusion were told a different story by the good people of South Carolina," he says. "You can see it in the faces here tonight. They are young and old; rich and poor. They are Black and White; Latino and Asian and Native American … And in nine days, in nine short days, nearly half the nation will have the chance to join us in saying that we are tired of business-as-usual in Washington, we are hungry for change, and we are ready to believe again."
Those "nine short days" have now been whittled down to less than a week as voters in 22 states will go to the polls in Democratic Primaries, called "Super Tuesday", Feb. 5.
A growing excitement appears to have set in – among people of diverse nationalities – at the mere thought that an African American could possibly become president.
"I'm just happy … I'm a big supporter," said Abraham Kulungara, who identified himself as Indian. He sat mesmerized at the airport as Obama spoke, even as the last few people filed toward the plane.
Polls accurately predicted Obama's landslide win in South Carolina with a Democratic electorate of nearly half Black. But on Super Tuesday, anything could happen as African American heavy weights, such as Reps. John Lewis in Atlanta and Charlie Rangel in New York, campaign on behalf of Sen. Clinton.
Obama also received major new endorsements this week as U. S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Caroline Kennedy, the brother and daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, respectively, announced their endorsements of him. Sen. Kennedy's son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., also endorsed Obama this week.
Pundits have called Obama the first African American candidate perceived as having a serious chance of being elected president.
However, in 1988, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and his "Rainbow Coalition" also stirred excitement and raised levels of hope as he won South Carolina and another five southern states on Super Tuesday that year, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia.
But, Obama's campaign is significantly different, largely because of his win in Iowa with a population of only 2 percent African American and more than 90 percent White.
Obama rejects speculation that Independents and even some conservative Republicans could be setting him up to vote against him in the final election in November.
Right wing conservative commentator Pat Buchanan said in a recent televised interview that he would rather see Obama win because he would be easiest of the Democratic candidates to defeat by the Republican Party.
"That's a silly argument," Obama scoffed in an interview with the NNPA News Service. He says his constituency has been misjudged.
"These aren't people who are … part of some grand conspiracy. These are people who believe that I can bring the country together to get some things done. And that's why the polls show me beating every other Republican who might be nominated."
A Zogby International Poll, published in December, shows Obama beating Mitt Romney of Massachusetts by 18 percent; Sen. John McCain by 4 percent; Arkansas' Mike Huckabee by 5 percent; and Rudy Giuliani by 9 percent.
Clinton also leads the Republicans, but behind Obama and by slightly smaller margins.
If the chatter that started at the Atlanta Airport is any indication, he will continue to have broad-based support regardless of who ultimately wins the nomination and becomes the party nominee at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Aug. 25-28.
Discussions continued even among strangers on the plane, headed for the Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.
A White man and woman, initially strangers, held an intense conversation:
"My daughter, who is 15, is very excited about him," the man said. However he noted that he wouldn't mind if Clinton wins, especially since he liked her husband's presidency, albeit controversial. "I think he was a hell of a president. I don't care what he did."
The woman, apparently less enthusiastic about either Clinton, was conciliatory: "If she gets the nomination, I'll back her. But I'm hoping [Obama] will pull it off. But, there's an awful lot of racism yet."