Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Barack Obama: The Question of Experience

Now that Barack Obama has officially entered the presidential fray and Hillary Clinton is set to do the same in the next few weeks, the top tier of the Dem nomination race is set between those two and John Edwards.

Sure, others like Wesley Clark could shake up things a bit, but barring the entry of Al Gore, the race is essentially between Obama, Clinton, and Edwards.

Regarding Obama, the big downside that everyone points to is his lack of experience. I know this has been said before, but it's worth saying again: How exactly does Obama's prior experience make him any less capable of being president than the person who current resides in the White House?

Prior to being president, Bush had six years as Texas governor, but that's it. Before that he was a businessman who owed his entire career to his family's vast wealth and connections.

Prior to entering the US Senate, in which he'll have clocked 4 years by the time the general election rolls around in 2008, Obama served in the Illinois state Senate for 8 years. And before that he worked as a civil rights attorney after graduating from Harvard Law School where he served as the first African American president of the distinguished Harvard Law Review.

However, if there's one legitimate gripe about Obama's experience, it's not his lack of political or policy experience, but his lack of electoral experience.

Bush was around the electoral block prior to his "win" in 2000. He worked on his dad's presidential campaigns in 1988 and 1992, and he also fought and won a tough (and very dirty) election against incumbent Texas governor Ann Richards in 1994.

Obama, on the other hand, was the landslide winner over Republican joke candidate Alan Keyes in 2004 after the original GOP candidate Jack Ryan dropped out amid embarrassing sexual allegations by his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan.

Obama did have a bit of a challenge to get the Democratic nomination for US Senate in 2004, but a tough state primary is nothing compared to a national race for president. Edwards has been through it all once before, and Clinton -- while never in a national race herself -- witnessed what it takes firsthand with Bill and essentially has served as a national candidate in terms of exposure since announcing her first US Senate run in 2000.

What Obama has going in his favor, at least according to the inside-the-beltway blog "The Fix," is that he's surrounded himself with top-notch talent heading into this race. A strong team behind the scenes will certainly help Obama navigate the dirty waters of a presidential run.

It's clear Obama generates much of his political support through his outward charisma and composure. Aside from Bill Richardson and, to a lesser extent, Edwards, no one in the Democratic field can touch Obama on these facets.

However, the doubled-edged sword to building support on charisma and composure is that you need to maintain them at a high level in order to stay competitive. And in a very long -- the general is still over 20 months away -- and highly public campaign for president, that's a hefty challenge to say the least.

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