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Published:May 3rd, 2008 13:46 EST
Barack Obama And The African American Vote

Barack Obama And The African American Vote

By Robert Paul Reyes

Early on in the presidential campaign my loyalties were divided between Governor Bill Richardson and Sen. Barack Obama. Obama was the Young Turk with the gift of eloquence and the message of hope, and Richardson was the seasoned politician with the Mother of all Resumes.

Richardson is supremely qualified to be president, he has a resume that few can match: Governor of New Mexico, Congressman, Chairman of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association in 2005 and 2006, United States Secretary of Energy and United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

But to be honest it wasn't Richardson's impressive credentials that captured my interest -- it was his ethnicity. Unfortunately, when many Americans see a Latino, they imagine he's a landscaper, carpenter, field worker or dishwasher. Richardson is an extremely successful Hispanic who has shattered all the stereotypes. I yearned for Richardson to be the next president of the United State because of what it would mean for Hispanics in particular and for race relations in general.

This Latino columnist would have been delighted if Richardson had secured the Democratic nomination. Richardson's campaign never caught fire, he had the credentials, but he didn't have the charisma. Americans want a president they can imagine themselves having a beer with. The Average Joe doesn't care if his accountant is a socially awkward nerd, as long as he is a whiz at solving financial problems. But we want a president who is eloquent, charismatic and likeable.

Richardson didn't even make an impression in the Hispanic community, probably because of his Anglo surname. I had a hard time convincing some of my friends and family members that Richardson is a Latino. Oh well, I hope Obama considers Richardson as a running mate.

In the Virginia primary I voted for Sen. Barack Obama; and I am doing everything I can to advance his candidacy. One day when I'm in a rest home, I want to be able to tell youngsters who come and visit me that in my own little way, I helped elect the first African American president.

I can understand why Obama has captured the imagination of the American people, -- the senator from Illinois represents change and hope. Obama is one of those rare politicians who transcends party affiliations and even race.

But I can especially understand why African Americans are solidly behind Obama. Jim Crow laws, that prohibited blacks from using "whites only" restrooms and other public accommodations were still in place as late as 1965. For an African American who as a youngster was forced to drink from a "colored" drinking fountain, a black president represents a quantum leap forward.

If most blacks had the attitude "I'm for Obama because he's black, regardless of his stand on the issues", who are we to say that's not right? "I'm for Obama because he's black", might not be the politically correct posture, but when you have suffered discrimination sometimes you think with your gut.

But it's important to note that at the start of this long and bitter presidential campaign, Hillary and Obama were splitting the black vote. It wasn't until Hillary  lost some contests, that she grew desperate and played the race card. Bill Clinton's infamous race-baiting comments after the South Carolina primary caused, blacks to desert Hillary in droves, and Obama now garners about 90% of the black vote.

It would be a tragedy if the Jeremiah Wright controversy derails Obama's presidential aspirations. The Whitey-hating Wright is the antithesis of everything that Obama holds dear: Inclusiveness and racial harmony. I hope blue-collar whites will forgive Obama for his mistake in not repudiating Wright months ago, and vote for Obama, the one candidate who can unite Americans of all races.

I still expect Obama to win the Democratic nomination and the general election. When Obama is inaugurated as the next president of the United States, it will be a momentous occasion and a time of rejoicing for African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Whites and Americans of all other enthnicities.