Obama's Past Offers Ammo for Critics
Wednesday, January 17, 2007; 2:45 PM
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama may have a lot of explaining to do.
He voted against requiring medical care for aborted fetuses who survive. He supported allowing retired police officers to carry concealed weapons, but opposed allowing people to use banned handguns to defend against intruders in their homes. And the list of sensitive topics goes on.
With only a slim, two-year record in the U.S. Senate, Obama doesn't have many controversial congressional votes which political opponents can frame into attack ads. But his eight years as an Illinois state senator are sprinkled with potentially explosive land mines, such as his abortion and gun control votes.
Obama _ who filed papers this week creating an exploratory committee to seek the 2008 Democratic nomination _ may also find himself fielding questions about his actions outside public office, from his acknowledgment of cocaine use in his youth to a more recent land purchase from a political supporter who is facing charges in an unrelated kickback scheme involving investment firms seeking state business.
Obama was known in the Illinois Capitol as a consistently liberal senator who reflected the views of voters in his Chicago district. He helped reform the state death penalty system and create tax breaks for the poor while developing a reputation as someone who would work with critics to build consensus.
He had a 100 percent rating from the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council for his support of abortion rights, family planning services and health insurance coverage for female contraceptives.
One vote that especially riled abortion opponents involved restrictions on a type of abortion where the fetus sometimes survives, occasionally for hours. The restrictions, which never became law, included requiring the presence of a second doctor to care for the fetus.
"Everyone's going to use this and pound him over the head with it," said Daniel McConchie, vice president and chief of staff for Americans United for Life.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said voters will be able to judge distorted accounts of his votes against his legislative career in general.
"I don't doubt that if you take a series of votes and twist them and kind of squint, you can write a narrative the way you want to write it," Gibbs said. "I think what people understand is that (what matters) is taking the full measure of his career and the full measure of his legislative efforts."
Abortion opponents see Obama's vote on medical care for aborted fetuses as a refusal to protect the helpless. Some have even accused him of supporting infanticide.
Obama _ who joined several other Democrats in voting "present" in 2001 and "no" the next year _ argued the legislation was worded in a way that unconstitutionally threatened a woman's right to abortion by defining the fetus as a child.