Boston (CNSNews.com) - Without a formidable Republican opponent in his U.S. Senate race, Barack Obama has little reason not to take money from billionaire liberal financier George Soros, a man other Democrats keep at a distance.
When Obama takes the stage Tuesday night for a prime-time address at the Democratic National Convention, the candidate for Senate in Illinois will be introduced to a wider audience for the first time, bringing heightened scrutiny to the relative political newcomer's campaign.
Democrats expect him to pass any test he faces. They view Obama as a rising star within their party, touting his good looks and ability to connect with voters. If elected Nov. 2, he would become the first black to hold a Senate seat since Carol Moseley Braun, also from Illinois.
Obama, however, is different from most Democrats because of his willingness to embrace the controversial Soros. Shortly after Soros equated the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Obama joined him for a New York fund-raiser June 7.
The event, held at Soros' home, boosted Obama's campaign at a time he was still facing a challenge from Republican Jack Ryan. After news broke about information in Ryan's divorce records, the candidate was forced to drop out. The Illinois GOP has yet to find a replacement.
Obama, meanwhile, has emerged as the party's young face. He was selected over longtime party stalwarts to speak Tuesday night, and Obama has seized the opportunity.
Little has been made of his connection to Soros, although it is quite unique. Not only did George Soros donate to Obama's campaign, but four other family members - Jennifer, sons Jonathan and Robert and wife Susan - did as well.
Because of a special provision campaign finance laws, the Soroses were able to give a collective $60,000 to Obama during his primary challenge. Obama faced millionaire Blair Hull, which allowed donors to give more than typically allowed.
Obama is one of only a handful of candidates to get a personal contribution from George Soros. The others include Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Bob Graham (D-Fla.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, and former Vermont governor Howard Dean
"Why did George support Obama?" his spokesman, Michael Vachon, asked rhetorically. "Because when they met in Chicago a couple of months ago, it was apparent that Barack Obama was an emerging national leader, and he would be an important addition to the Senate."
Vachon said Obama is the only candidate this election cycle Soros has met personally, with the first powwow in March. Asked why Soros hasn't sought out a meeting with Kerry, the man he is pulling for to defeat President Bush on Nov. 2, Vachon said it was just a matter of Soros keeping his distance.
"George is a major funder of an independent 527 group, and it probably makes more sense for him and Kerry to keep each other at arm's length," Vachon said.
Those meetings with Obama have caught the attention of the Illinois Republican Party, said spokesman Jason Gerwig.
"Barack Obama and his liberal voting record have gotten a free ride," Gerwig said. "His aspirations seemed to be focused more nationally now than they do on Illinois, especially if you look at some of the money he's taken from Soros and from left-coast liberals."
On issues like health care, education, energy and the economy, Obama has articulated defined positions on his campaign website. But on other matters, the candidate hasn't been challenged to say where he stands. Obama's campaign didn't return CNSNews.com's calls.
"He's more of a socialist than he is even a Democrat," said a critic, Cathy Santos, co-founder of the Chicago-based Republican Young Professionals. "A lot of his policies have the government taking care of people. Instead of giving people a leg up, he would rather give them a leg."
Soros initially was attracted to Obama because of his vision on education and health care, Vachon said. But Santos said if Obama got his way, the U.S. health care system would be worse than what Clinton proposed after her husband was elected president. She also said voters should be wary of Obama's "any time, anywhere" stance on abortion.
Illinois Republicans have also grown frustrated with the glowing media coverage Obama has received. Three publications, The New York Times, New Republic and The New Yorker, have all written at length about Obama, who is still only a state senator from the Midwest.
"He's turned into being this darling, but he still hasn't had to talk about the issues," Santos said. "No one really knows where he stands on a lot of these issues. Until we have a Senate candidate, if we have one, no one's going to know how liberal he is until he starts casting votes."
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