(June 4, 2008) Senator Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. The first African-American presidential nominee, Obama’s success might be historic, but he has a long road ahead. ESSENCE reached some of the biggest names in politics—the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Congressman James E. Clyburn and Obama adviser Cassandra Q. Butts—and asked them what they think Obama has to do now to win the general election, what are his hurdles, and what will his win mean to Black America?
James E. Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and a superdelegate, endorsed Obama
On what should happen next:
I think that some point in the not-too-distant future, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton will have some kind of face-to-face meeting so that they can, in fact, talk about the way forward, work out some kind of graceful exit for her from the campaign, look at what we need to do as a party going forward, how we should hold ourselves up out to the nation. I think all that needs to happen. But I wouldn’t say it has to happen today, it needs to happen within the next few days, though.”
On what the nomination will mean to Black America:
I think this means for Black America what it means for White America. I have always bought into the theory that if you look into the works of Martin Luther King, Jr., there are people who will say, [when we fight racial discrimination] “it is as much to free White Americans from their past as it is to free Black Americans from their past.” So I don’t think that we do ourselves a whole lot of good separating out Barack Obama as a Black person’s candidate or White person’s candidate, it’s all about America.
We reached Jesse Jackson, Chicago-based civil rights leader, in Tanzania. He said he has not officially endorsed either candidate
I’m impressed as I watch America changing and becoming more mature. On August 28, 1955, Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi. On August 28, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at the March on Washington of dreaming of a new day. On August 28, 2008, Barack Obama will be declared the nominee of the Democratic Party. What a tremendous growth for our country.
On how the Democratic Party will move forward:
The key to victory now is for Barack and Hillary to force their reconciliation. In 1968, when Humphrey and McCarthy could not reconcile the Vietnam question, the Democrats lost. In some measure, it gave Reagan the win. This won’t be a problem for Hillary and Barack, but many of their constituents have said they’re not going to vote for the opposition. They must move beyond that pain real fast and get under one big tent. There is no future in lying back. There is no future in doing less than our best.
Cassandra Q. Butts is an adviser to Senator Obama’s presidential campaign
On what’s next for Obama:
He’s got to continue to do what he’s been doing throughout the campaign, and that is carrying forth a message of change and unity. From day one, he has made the case that the American people need real change in Washington. He has garnered more than 30 victories in the last 16 months, so clearly this is a message that resonates with voters.
On hurdles Obama will face:
Obviously, Senator McCain is very accomplished, but there are very distinct differences between what Senator Obama wants and what Senator McCain wants to bring to the presidency. He [Obama] will make those differences very clear. I don’t necessarily see this as an obstacle but it will be a challenge to continue to get out his message and do the kind of outreach he has been doing.
On the groups or demographics Obama will need to win over:
Obama has proven that when he gets a chance to spend time with people and they get to know him better, they appreciate his message. He will continue to do outreach across the country, but we’re confident that once people get to know him and know what kind of president he will be, they will deliver their support.
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