Even before Oprah Winfrey prodded Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to run for president in 2008 on Larry King Live, "Obama for President 2008" bumper stickers, mugs and T-shirts were hot sellers on the Web. Internet chat rooms pulse with talk about an Obama presidency run, and Chicago papers run articles speculating about the prospects of an Obama candidacy.
Though Obama hasn't said anything about his plans, the Democratic Party's newest telegenic, shining star has to be flattered by the clamor for him to toss his hat in the ring. But that's what it should stay — flattery.
Obama is not the shot in the arm the Democrats need to take back Congress and the White House in 2008. He is too new on the political scene, too untested, too politically nice, too liberal and — most of all — he's an African American.
Those factors make it virtually impossible for Obama to pry even one state away from the Southern Republican bloc — that is, the South that is mostly White, conservative, male, pro war, anti-big government, racist and heavily influenced by ultra-conservative Bible-Belt fundamentalism. These political attributes are the exact antithesis of Obama's political appeal. Courting the Solid South has proven to be a winning formula for GOP presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr.
A presidential candidate also must raise millions, get his/her party's official stamp and appeal to conservative, White middle-class voters outside the South. Obama showed in his Senate race in 2004 that he can corral the big bucks — he raised a record $4 million in a three-month span. But that was a state race. A presidential bid is far different.
To prove that he's a viable candidate he must preach a centrist, conservative message of family values, tax fairness and military preparedness. He simply hasn't been on the political scene long enough to sell that message. And he'd need every penny he could get — the Republican contender will have a united party behind him (or her) and have mountains of cash.
Then there's the issue of race. Obama did reasonably well in neutralizing, if not totally breaking down, the reservations of many Whites in Illinois to vote for a Black candidate. But his opponent was the lightly regarded Alan Keyes, who also is an African American. Many Republicans in the state sat that one out. It will be a far different story if Obama hits the national campaign trail. While polls show that more Whites than ever are willing to vote for a Black candidate for state and local offices, there is yet no evidence that that openness extends over to a vote for a Black candidate for the presidency.
In fact, White males more than any other group have bought the Republican's anti-government, anti-liberal line. Bush bagged more than 60 percent of the White male vote in 2004, a figure not likely to change much in 2008. If Obama is the Democrat of choice, that percentage might jump even higher. Colin Powell found that out when he briefly toyed with a presidential run in 1996.
The Republicans will likely pour millions into beefing up their diversity pitch among Blacks and Latinos. They will tout Bush's minority business, homeownership and education initiatives as a better deal for minorities than anything the Democrats have to offer. That claim won't convince the majority of Blacks to vote Republican, but it could pare down the number that dash to the polls to vote for Obama. Even if Obama got the overwhelming majority of Black votes, which is likely, that's not terribly significant — any Democrat that runs will do just as well with Black voters.
The Democrats hope to retake the White House rests on their ability to find a populist White male candidate who can convince a significant number of swing-state voters that a Democrat in the White House offers real alternatives to the GOP policies on the war, the economy, health care, immigration and energy issues, and who is centrist enough to convince them that he is as tough on terrorism as the GOP.
That's a tall order. Obama is not the man that can fill it, at least not in 2008.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for www.BlackNews.com.