Both candidates to become United States Senator from Illinois are black, but the issues involved range far beyond race. Republican Alan Keyes and Democrat Barack Obama are at opposite ends of the political spectrum on everything from abortion to taxes, gun control, environmentalism and labor unions.
The outcome of the election, however, may not depend on these issues but on whether image and rhetoric carry more weight than issues. The outcome can also depend on whether the Republicans back Alan Keyes with as much money as the Democrats spend backing Barack Obama.
Obama made a big splash as the keynote speaker at the recent Democratic convention, and the powers that be in the Democratic Party obviously see him as potentially a rising star. While Democrats are quick to accuse Republicans of tokenism whenever they put someone black in any prominent position, it is hard to imagine that an obscure member of the Illinois legislature would have been featured at a national convention if he were white.
Alan Keyes has had far more experience at the national and international level. After serving overseas as a foreign service officer, he rose within the State Department to become Assistant Secretary of State during the Reagan administration.
What Alan Keyes has become best known for, however, have been his staunchly conservative views on the family, military defense, and other conservative causes. He has been part of the conservative movement since his teenage years.
Keyes is a dynamic speaker whose confrontational style and strong rhetoric have turned off some people, even as they have inspired others. Barack Obama has cultivated a much smoother, moderate-sounding style. But his track record shows him to be at least as far to the left as Alan Keyes is to the right.
An environmentalist movement group has given Obama its highest rating for his votes their way as a state legislator in Illinois. Obama has supported tax increases in Illinois and opposed tax cuts nationally. He supports partial-birth abortion, which is anathema to conservatives like Keyes, and which gives pause even to some liberals who support abortion in general.
If Barack Obama's strongest suit is his rhetoric and his image, his greatest vulnerability is his actual voting record and his speeches against the war in Iraq. Neither gets featured in Obama's campaign material. He is a stealth candidate.