Growing up in a military family, I was taught that the United States of America is the best country in the world because of our freedoms. Sometimes I questioned that concept when I saw the racial division and hatred in this country during the `50s and `60s.

Whether I was watching film on the evening news of civil rights marchers being attacked by police and their dogs or making our family's yearly pilgrimages to rural Mississippi and Washington D.C. - two places where I have ancestral ties that go back 200 years - the ugly racial division in this land of the free was obvious to me even as a child.

With his success in Iowa's caucus and a close second in New Hampshire's primary, Barack Obama is a serious Democratic contender for the presidency. Has America really changed and put its racial divisions - both institutional and personal - to rest? It was not that long ago that the Supreme Court reversed "separate but equal" under Plessy v. Ferguson with its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision that racial segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment, opening the roads to a truly integrated American society.

Have Americans finally become "colorblind" when it comes to race? The U.S. Census Bureau on their website estimates that in 2006 Iowa was 94.6 percent white and 2.5 percent black, so certainly white Democrats did not stick to their ethnic group in their caucus. New Hampshire is even "whiter" than Iowa according to the government's 2006 estimate with 95.8 percent of the population being white and 1.1 percent being black. Both states surprised many Americans with the support they gave to an African-American for the presidency.

I remember the first time I heard the word "charismatic" was when it was used to describe John F. Kennedy during his bid for the White House. Barack Obama does have a similar magnetism that attracts people to him, particularly young people who have turned out in larger numbers both in Iowa and New Hampshire to hear him speak. It is interesting to note how often Obama uses the pronoun "we" in his speeches, compared to Clinton's constant favorite pronoun, "I."

According to U.S News, the Iowa youth vote tripled from 2004 "with 65,000 people ages 18 through 29 turning out for the caucuses." The youth vote helped Obama in Iowa, but why didn't the same thing happen in New Hampshire? In a New York Times exit poll, 60 percent of the Democrat voters ages 18-24 stated they voted for Obama; however, this strong showing was counterbalanced with older women who favored Clinton. Nancy Cook of NPR as well noted the shift in New Hampshire: "Obama also won the youth vote: the 18 percent of the New Hampshire electorate under 30, while Clinton won among voters age 45 and older." In the end Clinton had 39 percent of the Democratic vote compared to 36 percent for Obama. If Obama is to succeed and become the Democratic candidate for the presidency, he must win over more than the youth of this country; he must win the hearts of the older generation, specifically middle-aged and older women.

Obama has used the word "change" ad nauseam, just as Clinton has used her favorite term, "experience," until it dulls the mind. Neither candidate can be reduced to a single word, but Obama represents a new face to most Americans while Clinton with her "35 years of experience" represents the past. Obama may be the junior senator from Illinois, but he also served seven years in the Illinois State Senate. Clinton is in her second term in the U.S. Senate. Do the math: Obama has served more years as an elected official than Clinton. Of course Clinton is counting her time as First Lady - back in Arkansas and Washington D.C. - but multiple terms in that position is not executive experience.

There will be more challenges for Barack Obama with the Nevada caucus on Jan. 19 and South Carolina's Democratic primary on Jan. 26. With more than 20 states participating on Super Tuesday - Feb. 5 - Obama's chances for the presidency will be clearer.

Will the Democrats put their support behind a man who in this country 150 years ago would have been denied the right to vote in many states because of his skin color? Barack Obama's appeal is not that he is a black man (he is as white as he is black), but rather that he represents hope for America's future.

ABOUT THE WRITER Carol Jensen is a long-time Barstow resident, graduating from Kennedy High School and Barstow College, where she was an English instructor for many years. Much of her time now is spent writing political and social commentary. She may be contacted at cajensen49@msn.com.