11/23/04 — Two freshmen: Obama and McHenry are people to watch

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Two freshmen: Obama and McHenry are people to watch

Two freshman faces in the U.S. Congress come January are certain to be watched closely by political party leaders not only in Washington but perhaps across the country.

They are Sen.-elect Barrack Obama of Illinois and Rep.-elect Patrick McHenry of North Carolina.

Obama will be followed because of the hit he made as keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Focus will be on McHenry because — at 29 — he will be the youngest member of the U.S. Congress.

Both come from service in the legislatures of their respective states. Obama had represented the Chicago area in the Illinois State Senate. He beat out six other Democrats to win the U.S. Senate nomination.

McHenry had the audacity to run for a seat in the North Carolina General Assembly at the age of 23 while still a college student. He lost to an opponent who made a point of McHenry’s immaturity.

After graduating from college, he worked with the first campaign of George W. Bush and then went to Washington with a job in the U.S. Department of Labor.

McHenry came back home and was elected to the state House in 2001. He was in his second term when he offered for the congressional seat.

Although he was not regarded as among the more influential members of the House, this could be attributed in part not only to his youth but to the fact that he was not one of the supporters of Republican Richard Moore in his ascension to the co-speakership with Democrat Jim Black.

Republicans in Washington regard McHenry as one of great potential not because of his record — which is minimal — or any demonstration of significant leadership abilities, but because of his age.

At 29, if he can retain his seat, he could have many years to develop seniority and grow in knowledge and influence. He also speaks the language of young voters.

Neither he nor Obama have expressed any interest in looking beyond the seats they have won.

Both insist their goals are to do a good job in the positions to which they have been elected. Obama said on one network news program that he was going to Washington “to get something accomplished, not to seek out the limelight.”

And McHenry brushed off suggestions that he should be eyeing the governor’s mansion back home — or higher office.

It will be better for both good men to devote full time to tending to their knitting as congressional freshmen and growing in knowledge.

But they may have to do so under the interested eyes of party leaders and people across the country.

Published in Editorials on November 23, 2004 10:59 AM