Ill. Senate hopeful raises money in city

Obama, strong favorite, spreads wings nationally

September 28, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Up by 51 points in the latest poll, U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama of Illinois needs more campaign money like Chicago needs more sausage, but he nonetheless made it to Baltimore early yesterday for a posh fund-raiser at the Marriott Waterfront.

Obama's campaign coffers are full, and his Republican opponent, former Marylander Alan L. Keyes, appears to pose even less of an obstacle for the young state senator than he did in landslide losses to Maryland Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski. But instead of coasting through the Nov. 2 election, Obama is raising money and stumping for Senate candidates across the nation and helping the Democratic presidential ticket turn out the vote.

That's why Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, 7th District Democrat, brought him to Maryland. Cummings, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he is excited about the prospect of Obama becoming the only African-American senator and only the third since Reconstruction.

But he doesn't just want Obama to win. He wants him to be a "player."

"He has to be a player in this party, contributing to other people's campaigns and lifting them up," Cummings said. "He can't just sit there and be glad to be there, and it takes money to be a player."

Obama, 43, a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School who catapulted to national notice with a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, was well in the lead in the Senate race before his first Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, dropped out in a sex scandal.

Keyes' move from Maryland to Illinois hasn't changed the dynamic. A Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll published over the weekend showed Obama leading by a 68-17 margin.

Although Obama played down his role as a jet-setting political star, and his campaign spokesman insisted that his top three priorities are "Illinois, Illinois and Illinois," the candidate appeared to be taking Cummings' advice to heart.

After breakfast in Baltimore, he was scheduled for a lunch fund-raiser in Philadelphia to help Senate candidates in tight races in Colorado and Florida. After that, he was to appear at a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry in Pennsylvania. If not for Hurricane Jeanne, he would have headed to Florida.

In Baltimore, his breakfast with about 75 contributors was aimed at raising money for his own campaign, although he was expected to distribute cash to Democratic candidates elsewhere. His campaign did not disclose how much he raised.

"I've been doing some travel over the last month to key states because I think it's not only so important that we elect John Kerry and John Edwards but that we also elect a Democratic Senate," Obama said.

Those sorts of contributions help forge connections that can be useful later to gain favorable committee assignments, chairmanships or votes on key bills, said Paul Herrnson, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park and director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship.

Traveling to Baltimore to raise his profile was not without political complications for Obama, as he wandered onto the turf of another Democrat considered a rising star in his party, Mayor Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley also spoke at the Democratic convention, and he was tapped last year to give the party's weekly radio address criticizing President Bush's homeland security spending.

Although Obama's campaign manager, Jim Cauley, is O'Malley's friend and a former adviser, the two politicians had never met.

As Obama talked to a bevy of television cameras before the fund-raiser yesterday, O'Malley strode into the room and introduced himself. Without skipping a beat, Obama then wove O'Malley's name into his remarks three times, as if they had worked together for years.

O'Malley was evidently impressed. "He's got this great radio voice," O'Malley said, scrunching his chin down to his throat to lower his own pitch. "This great, deep, deep voice."

But the mayor managed to grab a share of the spotlight, too, with a crack at Keyes.

"We've had experience in the past with your opponent here in Maryland," O'Malley told Obama. "So we felt an obligation, really a responsibility, to do something for you here."

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