Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Obama mania doesn't surprise local supporter

By Ann Knef of the Madison County (IL) Record
'Illinoisans for Obama', with the exception of the senator from Iowa, include (bottom row from left) Hermon Betts, Mary DeAngelo, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Ray Coleman and Marge Francois. Top row: Barbara Henderson and Matt Hawkins.

The Obama sensation sweeping the nation is on a big time roll. Talk radio, nightly news and political pundits are having a field day covering the Illinois senator's chances of out-maneuvering the heretofore Democratic powerhouse Hillary Clinton for presidential front-runner status.

Perhaps no one is more enthusiastic about Obama's popular rise than Ray Coleman of Fairview Heights, a political activist who was one of the first to jump on the Barack Obama bandwagon when the state senator was hardly a household name.

"I feel really good about Barack Obama," Coleman said. "He is a special talent."

At a time when his name and candidacy was not widely accepted, Coleman was among the first Metro-East politicos to support a Metro-East grassroots organization for Obama in his primary race for U.S. senate. State Comptroller Dan Hynes was the darling among local Democrats during the 2004 primary.

Coleman managed to raise $1,000 for Obama that year. His first meeting with the senator, at a fund-raiser in Springfield, was memorable.

"He was late," Coleman said. "He walked in the room and he commanded attention."

While Coleman is certain Obama will announce his intention to run for president in 2008, he understands Obama's careful deliberation.

"He had a quote that I haven't forgotten: 'We have to make decisions about making decisions,'" Coleman said.

In September, Coleman was among a coalition of six "Illinoisans for Obama 2008" who traveled to Iowa to rally for Obama. Coleman said he wanted to be "part of that history."

One of the impressions made on him in Iowa was an encounter with two older white ladies who approached him and said, "you guys are lucky to have Senator Obama."

By their reaction, his reply impressed them more, "Barack belongs to all of us."

Obama comparisons to John F. Kennedy reverberating across the country don't surprise Coleman.

"He's that type of guy," he said. "He transcends gender, race, party, partisan politics."
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