"Sonny's Corner" is a regular column in Prairie Fire, featuring commentary on civil rights and justice issues. Our friend and Omaha colleague, Joseph P. "Sonny" Foster, died suddenly at age 54 in August 2005. He left an uncompleted agenda, as did many of our civil rights and justice mentors and heroes. We shall attempt to move forward on that unfinished agenda through this column.
Lately, Ben Nelson has not just been Nebraska’s senator, but also a colleague of, good friend to and supporter of President Barack Obama. Not only were their two senate offices in Washington, D.C., next door to each other, but when asked how he got to know Obama personally, Senator Nelson replied, “I got to know him from being on the floor and spending time with him on issues.” When Ben Nelson ran for senator in 2006, Obama even flew down to Nebraska to campaign for him. A year later, Obama announced his decision to run for president, and Ben Nelson returned the favor by joining Obama’s Democrat Campaign in Omaha. “We decided that you wouldn’t win it with just commercials, ads for TV, with the radio or in newspapers. You had to go door to door.” A team of staff members and an army of local Nebraskan volunteers went to thousands of homes, knocking on the door and asking voters to support Obama. “We also had Obama’s commitment to Nebraska,” said Senator Nelson. “A year ago he came to Nebraska as well.” So, the campaign’s efforts coupled with Obama’s determination and, in the end, polls showed the first Democratic electoral victory in Nebraska since 1964. Although very pleased and excited about the outcome, Ben Nelson was not surprised. “I expected it because we ran to win. It showed that Nebraska as a 2nd district was willing to look at a Democrat, and it hadn’t in 44 years.” The win was widely celebrated by Obama fans and written in headlines across the nation. Although it may have only seemed like one insignificant electoral ticket, every point counted.
One major factor in the 2nd District win was an increasing number of voters being reregistered as Democrats. “It evened out the difference, so we felt comfortable that we could get enough Democrats to stay and attract enough Republicans,” said Ben Nelson. That wasn’t an easy task, though. When Obama first announced his decision to run for president, there was much concern about his lack of experience. Good thing for him, experience isn’t the only trait needed to be a president. Ben Nelson says, “the job [of being president] involves more than just experience—like judgment, ability to get things done and ability to persuade people.” According to Senator Nelson, Obama has all three. Many of his ideas are appealing, especially his plan to bring people together by connecting the west with the east, the rural with the urban, and to think of ourselves as one nation. With the economy as our number one priority right now, Obama had begun addressing his solutions even before he was sworn in. Plus, Obama does have the ability to persuade people, the sign of a leader. “He has exhibited leadership skills because he has a strong following of citizens from across America,” explains Ben Nelson, “and I think he is well-respected in the world as well, which means other countries are interested in his being successful as we are.”