The Catholic University of America
Stephen Schneck, chair and associate professor, politics, and director of the Life Cycle Institute, was quoted in a Bloomberg News article about how Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's limited experience in national politics will both help and hurt his presidential chances. See his comments in the article below.



Obama May Find His Newness Both Help and Hindrance in Campaign

From: Bloomberg
Date: Jan. 17, 2007
Author: Jay Newton-Small

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Illinois Senator Barack Obama took the first formal step toward a 2008 Democratic presidential bid, forming an "exploratory committee" for a campaign in which his recent arrival on the national scene would be both an asset and a liability.

Obama, 45, who said he would make a final decision about his candidacy on Feb. 10, is a newcomer on the national stage, with only two years of experience in the Senate. While that means he isn't burdened by a long voting record or hardened public attitudes about him, he is also untested in the brutal jousting of a national campaign.

"Obama is a fresh face, and a refreshing one, which is appealing to the press," said Thomas Patterson, a professor of government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Inevitably, however, the press will move out of the honeymoon period and begin taking a critical look into his personal life and political background.''

That might invite the kind of scrutiny that New York Senator Hillary Clinton, 59, the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, has endured for 14 years on her marriage, land deals, policy recommendations and Senate record.

Most voters have formed an opinion about her, and aren't likely to change it, said Dick Simpson, head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

'Hillary's Problem'

"Hillary's problem is nearly half of the people or thereabouts dislike her intensely," he said. "Apart from racism, very few dislike Obama intensely."

Fifty-six percent of respondents in a December Washington Post-ABC News poll said they view Clinton favorably, compared with 40 percent who don't and 4 percent who have no opinion. Obama drew a 44 percent favorable rating and only a 23 percent unfavorable rating.

Obama's entry into the race would make it mostly a two- person contest, with other Democratic candidates focusing on positioning themselves to step in should he or Clinton falter.

"There'll be Hillary and not-Hillary and then there'll be others in case Hillary or Barack Obama slip," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Easy-Going Charm

Obama's appeal as an articulate, intellectual, multi-racial candidate prompted supporters such as fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to urge him to run in 2008. So far, Obama's easy- going charm is the only thing most voters know about him.

Obama's "delightful difference from usual expectations about candidates is likely to be very hard to translate into the gravitas that Americans expect from their presidents," said Stephen Schneck, head of the politics department at Catholic University in Washington.

Voters may like Obama personally but question whether he's tough enough to handle war and terrorism, Patterson and Schneck said.

Clinton has built up her national security credentials with a stint on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Obama has no military experience, although he may have an easier record on the Iraq war to defend. He wasn't yet in the Senate for the initial vote on the invasion, and he has consistently opposed the occupation.

"We're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should never have been waged," Obama said in his statement yesterday.

Liberal Wing

"He spoke out against the war early and has continued to oppose it even before the current escalation," Simpson said. Clinton, who voted for the initial authorization, "has to explain her vote every time she gets into political discussions with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which is the wing more involved in the primaries."

Obama's first big vote on the war may come as early as this month as Democrats consider blocking money for President George W. Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. Obama said last week his staff is looking at ways to cut off funding to prevent the increase without hurting troops already there.

The first balloting for the Democratic presidential candidates comes early next year. Obama has been trying to neutralize Clinton's advantage from past campaigns by visiting states that have the early Democratic primaries.

Obama in Iowa

A December KCCI-TV poll of 400 likely Democratic voters in the Iowa caucuses found Obama tied for first place with former vice presidential candidate John Edwards. Each drew 22 percent support, compared with 12 percent for former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and just 10 percent for Clinton.

In New Hampshire, Clinton and Obama are almost dead even, according to a Concord Monitor poll taken in December, two weeks after Obama made his first trip to the state. Obama drew the support of 21 percent of voters, compared with 22 percent who said they would vote for Clinton. Edwards ranked third in that poll, with 16 percent support, the Associated Press reported.

As the race begins, so does press scrutiny of Obama. Already the Chicago Tribune has looked into a local real estate deal that Obama concedes was "boneheaded."

"If there are unpleasant surprises, they tend to overwhelm the positive aspects, which haven't had enough time to sink in deeply with the public," Patterson said.

Even if Obama remains relatively scandal-free, "he has to play the fresh face card and argue that experience is over- rated," said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Stanford Washington Research.

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