Obama presidency a stretch for some

Barack Obama knows it’s a stretch to think of him as president.

Just 46 years old and three years out of the Illinois legislature, the freshman senator also understands that the clock is ticking on his chance to surmount that “certain threshold” and convince voters he’s ready for the White House.

“The challenge for us is to let people know what I’ve accomplished at a time when the campaign schedule is getting so compressed,” Obama said in a recent interview. “I just don’t have much time to make that case.”

He’s right about that. Iowa Democrats begin winnowing the field late this year or in early January with their first-in-the nation caucuses. Then comes a few more early voting states before a multistate primary on Feb. 5 that could determine the nomination.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards are tied with Obama in polls of Iowa Democrats. The former first lady has a huge lead in national surveys of Democratic voters, and the backing of a political machine built by her husband, former President Clinton.

Obama has the broadest network of grass-roots activists, or at least that seems to be the case based on the record number of people who have donated money to his campaign — often in small amounts — and the size of crowds at his campaign events.

He’s also got a message that’s fit for the times: Obama promises to bring change to a political system that most voters think is broken.

But he’s got that nagging problem …

“… People have to feel comfortable that, ‘You know what? This guy can handle the job,'” he said between campaign stops last weekend in Iowa.

“It’s a stretch for them because I haven’t been on the national scene for long and haven’t gone through the conventional paths that we traditionally draw for our presidents, so they’ve got to stretch a little bit during a period where there’s a lot of stuff going on internationally, right?” said the unusually self-aware Obama.

Obama’s rivals, especially Clinton, don’t want voters making that leap of faith.

They pounce on Obama’s every gaffe (i.e. referring to U.S. lives lost in Iraq as “wasted”), exploit any misstatement (saying 10,000 people died in a tornado that actually killed 12) and call Obama naive for stating the obvious (nuclear arms against Afghanistan and Pakistan are not an option).

The first-term Illinois senator hasn’t helped his case with a string of shaky debate appearances, a streak he ended Sunday with a strong performance in Iowa as his more experienced rivals took aim.

Asked whether Obama was ready to be president, white-haired Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut replied, “You’re not going to have time in January of ’09 to get ready for this job.”

Obama hopes he still has time to win the job.

“I think it’s fair that I’ve got to earn the confidence of the electorate,” Obama told AP. “What we’ve tried to do over the course of the last six months is make the case for change, and the American people are desperately hungry for change. The next four or five or six months will involve me making the case that not only am I the most effective change agent but I’m also equipped with the experience and judgment to be the next commander in chief.”

On the campaign trail, Obama gently reminds voters that Clinton and Edwards are not so experienced: She is a second-term senator who has never run a government or business. Edwards served one term in the Senate.

“I’ve been in public office longer than Hillary Clinton has,” he said Monday, counting his seven years in the state Senate and not counting Clinton’s three decades in public life with her husband. “I’ve been in public office longer than John Edwards has.”

Obama could close the stature gap by producing more detailed plans for lowering health care costs, taming the federal debt, resolving the Iraq war and addressing other issues. Edwards, so far, has the edge on the so-called policy primary.

It would help had Obama spent more time overseas. Clinton has made several trips to Iraq and other foreign spots.

For now, Obama seems to be relying on a calm, comfortable campaign demeanor to a send the signal that he is a man in control. In a word, safe.

He has a relatively thin resume, but it’s not without accomplishments — working across party lines to change ethics, death penalty and racial profiling laws in Illinois. Ethics and nuclear proliferation are his signature issues in the Senate.

“I’ve got a track record, not only in the state legislature but in Washington for taking on tough issues and getting something done,” he said.

“I want to make sure that during the course of these next four or five months we talk about experience and judgment, not just in the ways that Washington has defined it but in the ways the people outside Washington understand it,” Obama said.

That assumes he can wrestle control of the campaign narrative from Clinton and his other battle-tested rivals — quite a stretch.

“If we’re able to do that,” he said, “then we will win.”

If he can’t, he won’t.


Ron Fournier has covered politics for The Associated Press for nearly 20 years.


  1. Steve Horn

    I really liked Obama early on, I thought he was a breath of fresh air in the political arena, but then his lack of diplomatic experience revealed itself when he suggested a strike into Pakistan without the blessing of the government. For a moment I thought the statement had been misattributed to Obama and had been made by Bush – so I re-read it and found that, in fact, it was Obama.

    Now he just seems to be grasping for straws – as though he’s not sure who he really is – as though he doesn’t really know what he stands for.

    A leader, a true leader, knows exactly who he/she is and knows exactly what they stand for, they inspire others to support their views and their plans, to follow their example, to do what’s needed rather than what’s popular. In my eyes, Obama doesn’t have “enough ass in his pants” (a favorite saying of a friend of mine from Kansas) to be a true leader.

    Me? The more I read about him the more I like Richardson – he doesn’t stand a snowballs chance in hell to beat out Clinton – but unlike Clinton, I believe that Richardson could win a general election – with Clinton or Obama heading the ticket we’re just giving the neocons another four years in the whitehouse.



  2. LurkingFromTheLeft

    I’m with you Steve –

    …I’d been keen on Bill Richardson from the beginning –

    …and wonder perhaps the pairing with Dennis Kucinich could be beneficial in somehow helping the D’s get a good ticket/team into 1600 (if Dumbass does leave it)in January 2009 –

    …geographically, it would help with those oh so critical demographics and those other ‘things’ people keep an eye to instead of worrying about real issues and substance –

    …I’ve said it before – and I’ll say it again – NO NO NO HRC –

    …I’ll admit it is scary that Kkkarl and I agree on one thing – and I’ve been skeptical of BO from the start – he was too ‘perfect’ – and at the time everyone was looking for someone to be the saviour – his day might come, but he surely needs some seasoning –


  3. jarrodlombardo

    referring to U.S. lives lost in Iraq as “wasted”
    I wish he had stuck to his statement. Their lives are being wasted. The war in Iraq is making our country less secure and our economy more imbalanced. The military could instead be here, keeping us secure.

  4. SEAL

    Obama’s reply should be, “so far, the experience has been wrong. That’s what I want to change. The people don’t need or want any more of that experience. The decision is what’s right or wrong, not experience.”

    Obama has allow himself to be sucked into arguing about the wrong thing. He should state the above and then tell the people what he will change a especially HOW he will change it. How is the one thing candidates never tell you. They never give specifics, all they do is blow smoke about it that sounds good. If he really wants to be different, which is greatest appeal, then he needs to tell the people what they want to know > how the hell are you going to give everyone health insurance and how the hell are you going to end the war?

    Stop being afraid that some people will not agree with you and that you will be giving fodder for the other candidates to attack your proposal. If you don’t believe in it and can’t defend it we don’t run for the office. But what you would be accomplishing is to turn the campain issue to what you want instead of alowing them to set the issues they want.

    Obama better get smart or they will blow him away. Right now he is being intimidated and probably getting bad advice. I am certain he can win if he goes back to being the man of the people and quit trying to prove he is a politition. His inexperience is what people liked.

  5. Citroyen

    The first I had heard about Obama was going into his speech at the Democratic convention in 2004. I listened, hoping to hear something. I heard practically nothing.
    He spent the first quarter of the speech talking about himself. This led into what a great country America is. I, like many, were hoping for him to take a strong stand against the Iraq war. The only thing he said was that there are patriotic people who support the war and patriotic people who oppose it. Period.
    He said nothing about how we were deliberately misled by the Bush administration. He said nothing except that everyone is patriotic and what a great country we are. Right then, I thought that this man was being pushed out front for reasons I didn’t care about.

    Later, in 2006, I sensed a glimmer of hope when Lamont courageously took on Lieberman and challenged him on the issue of the war. Obama couldn’t wait to get to Connecticut to support “Joe” and urge people to re-elect him so that he could continue to “serve in our behalf”. “Our” behalf. Give me a break.

    I have no problem with a politician lacking “experience”.
    If I can feel that someone is out there, speaking for us I would vote for that person. I wouldn’t care if the person never had held public office.
    But Obama has left me feeling nothing.

  6. SEAL

    Yanno, what is really wrong is that none of us is running for president.

    I would really like to be president. Dunno if I could live two full terms, though.

  7. Helen Rainier


    Now THAT is a good idea — a coalition of us “boomers” some of us who would qualify as having been hippie/flower children (such as myself) who also ended up serving our country.

    Frankly, I don’t know if anyone else here is as confused as I am about what is right or what is left, what is republican or what is democratic, but I have not the faintest idea.

    The only thing I think most of us here want is a government that governs by using common sense and the rule of law — screw the ideology of politics and religion.

    Neither organized politics nor organized religion have done much that is worthy of benefiting all of humankind, but rather has done much to promote oppression and subjugation of the people at large.

    Sorry — but I’ve never kissed anyone’s ass and I’m too damned old and cranky too start doing it now.