Hawai'i activists push for Obama
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
By Derrick DePledge
Several Hawai'i Democrats have joined a national movement to urge U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.
The Democrats have formed a steering committee to link with activists in 26 states who want Obama, who was born in Honolulu and graduated from Punahou School, to launch a presidential campaign. Obama has said he is considering a run, and he appeared last weekend before audiences in New Hampshire, a state with an important early primary.
"He inspires us, and we want to be part of a movement that encourages him to run," said former Makiki state Rep. Brian Schatz, who will announce the steering committee this morning at a news conference at the state Capitol.
DraftObama.org, an activist group based in Rockville, Md., is purchasing Obama television advertisements in New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., and, if the Hawai'i steering committee can raise the money, the ad might appear in the Islands when Obama is scheduled for a holiday visit with family. Obama's grandmother and sister live in the Islands.
DraftObama.org and another Obama group, runObama .com, have collected about 14,000 signatures on a national petition urging Obama to run, and the activists presented the petition to the senator last weekend in New Hampshire. Kris Schultz, the national media and grassroots coordinator for DraftObama.org, said the group hopes to connect with Obama activists in all 50 states by the end of the year.
"For me, personally, I haven't felt this way about a living Democrat my whole life," said Schultz, a Washington-based activist who blogged on behalf of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, during his re-election campaign this year. "He finally speaks in a manner that inspires, that gives hope, and after where we are in this country, that's exactly what we need."
Obama, a former Illinois state senator elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, is an emerging leader among Democrats who has attracted a national audience through his speeches and books.
His second book, this year's "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," is a best-seller, and his book signings and appearances have taken on the aura of campaign-style events.
At 45, and with only two years in the Senate, some Democrats have said Obama is too inexperienced for a presidential campaign. But he has been described by others in the party as in the same league as U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., among possible contenders. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, have already announced that they are seeking the Democratic nomination.
Obama has spoken of Hawai'i in the past as a place where people of different backgrounds and different faiths have come together.
"We have a sense that beneath the surface of things, all of us share a common set of hopes, a common set of dreams and a common set of values. That's what the Islands have always been about," he said at a Hawai'i fundraiser after he was elected to the Senate.
A spokesman for Obama's Senate office in Washington, D.C., could not be reached yesterday.
Chuck Freedman, a retired vice president of corporate relations for Hawaiian Electric Co. and former communications director for former Gov. John Waihee, said the steering committee has contacted Obama's aides and has received a positive response.
"The effort here is to say this guy is really a top-notch candidate," Freedman said. "Not just because he was born in Hawai'i, but because he offers something very special to the country and the world."
Freedman said the steering committee includes, among others, Schatz, state Sen. Russell Kokubun, D-2nd (S. Hilo, Puna, Ka'u), state Sen. Clarence Nishihara, D-18th (Waipahu, Crestview, Pearl City), state Rep. Scott Saiki, D-22nd (McCully, Pawa'a), and state Rep. Della Au Belatti, D-25th (Makiki, Tantalus).
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.
Correction: Hawai'i Democrats who want U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D.-Ill., to run for president in 2008 have been in contact with and have received a positive reaction only from national activists who also want to draft Obama. Obama's aides were not involved.