Gary Smith, executive director of the American Academy in Berlin, says that although Obama is still far from the White House, he's accentuating what's good in American politics — if not in America itself, particularly as the end of the Bush era looms.
"Europeans are tired of the image of a divided America," said Smith. Obama's rise "gives a sense of hope and optimism of a more inclusive America that is likely to mend fences abroad, particularly in Europe."
Europeans have long followed U.S. presidential elections closely and polls here consistently show that they believe a change at the White House will have a positive effect on the United States and on America's relationships with other countries. Germans, in particular, have kept a watchful eye on U.S. political events after the rise of American influence after World War II.
But many people note a real surge of interest in this year's primary contests, mainly because several presidential contenders come to the race with global recognition.
Rudy Giuliani's international profile soared after the attacks on New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Because Bill Clinton was universally loved in much of Europe, Hillary Clinton attained instant star status when she declared her candidacy for the White House. And now Barack Obama, the strongest black candidate for president in decades, is catching on in Europe because many here are startled to see a black candidate do well in American politics.
Indeed, much of the buzz surrounding Obama centers on his race.
"Iowa is a U.S. state that has never elected an African-American to any office," the Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung wrote in an opinion piece. The paper's front page included a large photo of Obama beneath the headline "Whites select black."
Obama's race "is the kind of the thing that will certainly arouse interest" in Europe, says von Marschall, the German author and journalist. He says the fact that America is considering electing a black president is striking for Europeans who often view the United States — and sometimes their own countries — as still racially divided. By voting for a minority candidate, "Americans are closer to doing something that is still unimaginable in much of Europe."