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Chronicle Columnist Questions Bates as Candidate for Change
From the San Francisco Chronicle: “And in the East Bay city of Richmond, a longtime incumbent city councilman is using Obama's name even though he represents the status quo that Obama is seeking to overturn in Washington, D.C. Politics makes strange bedfellows, indeed.”

Local candidates stretch to link with Obama

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If imitation is one of the most sincere forms of flattery, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama should be blushing right about now.

While some angry voters have chanted Obama's middle name, "Hussein," as an insult at Republican rallies, local candidates on the Nov. 4 ballot are using his well-known name on their campaign signs, mailers and Web sites to improve their chances of winning.

The tactic has been seen in races from the Bay Area, which is serious Obama country, to Georgia, where a law-and-order Republican for sheriff in the liberal enclave of Macon is using the name as a political prop.

Last week, Democratic Party officials in Florida's Tampa Bay launched a "Vote Local" campaign to seize on Obama's surging popularity and spur local support for candidates.

And in the East Bay city of Richmond, a longtime incumbent city councilman is using Obama's name even though he represents the status quo that Obama is seeking to overturn in Washington, D.C.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, indeed.

Councilman Nat Bates has produced posters with the oval Obama campaign logo and "Bates and Obama" in an effort to compete with nine other candidates for three open seats on the council.

Bates defended his campaign strategy, saying the placards were his way of touting support for Obama's presidential bid.

"I'm the one who's paying for it, I'm supporting Obama and using my own resources to support a candidate I believe in," Bates said. "I've taken a creative and innovative step to promote Barack and promote myself."

Bates also said it is virtually impossible to survive as a politician for more than 40 years without making changes in one's political beliefs and practices.

"I don't do the same thing I did 40 years ago," said Bates. "My campaign reflects new ideas." He referred me to his campaign Web site for specific policy questions, then hung up the phone.

But Bates' political opponents say it's downright strange for an incumbent who has been in office for the better part of three decades to instantly transform into a government reformer.

"A lot of people have complained about the poster that Nat has produced, but I believe that people would not be as outraged if Mr. Bates possessed some of the qualities that Obama possesses - but he doesn't," said Jovanka Beckles, a county mental health worker who is also running for a Richmond council seat.

"It's almost an oxymoron to put his name and face on the same poster with Obama," she said.

But Beckles, too, has linked her name to Obama's campaign in print ads that she has paid for, using the recognizable Obama logo next to her own picture and a caption that reads:

"Standing with Obama for Real Change."

But the two Richmond candidates are by no means alone in trying to hitch their wagonloads of political aspirations to Obama's rising star.

Amy Morton, a blogger who established Georgia Women Vote! in late 2005, has written about how the Democratic presidential candidate's popularity is affecting local races in Georgia.

In July, Georgia state Senate candidate Vernon Jones produced a sign showing him standing with Obama above a banner ad that read, "Yes We Can."

Jones lost to Democratic opponent, Jim Martin, in a runoff election in August.

But that didn't stop Scott Shepherd, the GOP candidate for Bibb County sheriff, from giving it a try as well.

A half-page color ad in a recent Sunday edition of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph showed Shepherd standing next to Bill Lucas, an African American candidate who lost a bid to win the Democratic nomination for the sheriff's race.

"I am voting for Senator Obama, the Democratic candidate for President in this election," Lucas says in the ad. "I would like you to vote for my friend, Scotty Shepherd, the Republican candidate for Sheriff of Bibb County."

In blogger Morton's part of the nation, which is Newt Gingrich country, some of the most conservative politicians are moving swiftly away from the GOP brand.

"Obama and McCain are two points apart in Georgia - we're talking about Georgia here," Morton said.

"A month ago I would have told you that Obama could not win in Georgia, but now I'm not so sure," she said. A "pork and politics" night hosted by her sister in North Carolina yielded the same surprising results.

At a dinner party with 25 guests, about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, ballots were cast and Obama received 17 votes, Morton said.

"If I were a candidate," she added, "I'd be invoking his name, too."

Chip Johnson's column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail him at chjohnson@sfchronicle.com.


This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle