(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat who last week announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, could become the nation's first black president in 2008, but liberal African-American leaders are hardly rushing to endorse him.
Jesse Jackson, a former presidential contender and head of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, came close to endorsing Obama on Thursday, telling CNN that "all of my heart leans toward Barack" in deciding who to endorse because "he's an extension of our struggle to make this a more perfect union."
But other prominent black liberals have remained hesitant.
Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist who tried unsuccessfully to get the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, has declined to endorse Obama because Sharpton is considering another presidential run.
Harry Belafonte, the calypso singer-turned activist, has questioned Obama's credentials. Belafonte was quoted in the (London) Times on Jan. 14 as saying, "We don't know what he's truly about."
Obama has been a U.S. senator for only two years, leading some critics to question if voters will be able to gauge Obama's positions. During his first year in the Senate in 2005, Obama received a rating of 8 from the American Conservative Union for voting the liberal position in 23 of 25 bills.
The rating put him on par with Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, another contender for the 2008 Democratic nomination, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee. It also makes Obama as liberal as New York Sen. Charles Schumer, vice-chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
The ACU rates Obama more liberal than both California Democratic senators -- Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer -- and less liberal than 14 of his colleagues.
Robert Ford, a civil rights activist now serving as a South Carolina state senator, has said that an Obama candidacy would be a "mistake" because "we in the South do not believe that America is ready to elect a black president."
But as Cybercast News Service previously reported, pollsters from both parties in December said they're confident American voters would focus on a candidate's policies and not their minority status in a presidential election.
"I think for sure there are many reasons why these specific candidates may not be elected," Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said of potential minority candidates Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), "but it won't be because they're a woman or because they're African-American."
In November, black columnist Stanley Crouch wrote that Obama "does not share a heritage with the majority of black Americans, who are descendants of plantation slaves" and that "when black Americans refer to Obama as 'one of us,' I do not know what they are talking about."
Jesse Lee Peterson, conservative founder of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), told Cybercast News Service that liberal black leaders might be hesitant to support Obama because he poses a threat to their leadership style.
"The old style of leadership is: blame, blame, blame, racism, racism, racism. You can't make it in America because you're black," Peterson said. "Obama is not quite like that. He gives the message that you can make it in America."
Peterson said Obama's disinclination to focus on racial issues "will attract both black and white liberals and conservatives, and Jackson and others do not want that to happen for sure."
"It would take away some of the power and control that they have had for so long," Peterson said. "They don't want that kind of free-thinking to happen. They don't want people to unite in that way."
In spite of the threat Peterson said Obama poses to the status quo of black leadership, Peterson said he expects more figureheads in the African American community to support Obama as his candidacy becomes official.
"Once this thing really gets going and Obama is serious about running, Hillary's going to lose a lot of the black voters," Peterson said, "and ... this so-called black leadership is going to go where the people go, and most of the black people definitely support Obama simply because he's black if nothing else."
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