Nearly every weekend during the 2008 Democratic primary, Illinois state Sen. Michael Noland campaigned for Barack Obama in Midwestern states, sometimes in brutal, sideways rain. Today, he is proud to have the desk in the same spot where Obama's once was—in the very last row of the Senate chamber—and says Obama "will be remembered as one of the greatest presidents."
But even in Obama's home base, trade has driven a deep rift between the president and his fellow Democrats. And Noland is no exception.
As Noland prepares to run for a Chicago-area House seat, he and two Democratic rivals, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Tom Cullerton, are persistently slamming the president's stance on trade, right in the heart of Obama's home state. In another primary on the president's turf, Democrats Nancy Rotering and former Rep. Brad Schneider also have taken aim at Obama's fast-track effort, which would help him complete a massive Asia-Pacific trade deal.
"The president remains fairly popular in the state," said Greg Goldner, a veteran political consultant in Chicago. "All of the candidates are playing to organized labor, which is still a very potent base in Democratic primaries in the districts."
By a narrow margin Tuesday, the Senate advanced the fast-track bill, with a vote on its final passage expected Wednesday. The legislation would allow a president to negotiate trade deals that Congress can only approve or reject, not change. If GOP leaders' plans remain intact, Congress also would send Obama a bill to help workers who lose their jobs from trade deals.