Ernie Schiller isn't afraid to make the ultimate comparison in the Democratic Party. Sen. Barack Obama, he said, reminds him of President John F. Kennedy.
"I remember as a kid that John F. Kennedy was the first president who kind of brought people to their knees thinking about America," Schiller said last week. "I do believe Sen. Obama offers that hope."
Schiller is a Lee County supervisor and retired high school teacher. He's already signed on to serve as a precinct chair for Obama in the Jan. 3 Iowa Caucuses.
The campaign keeps pushing him into the limelight, however, because of a past allegiance. It turns out that, until a few weeks ago, he was backing John Edwards.
Schiller broke with the former senator from North Carolina after watching Edwards' Iowa poll numbers take a hard downward turn. Now he feels it is important to let his neighbors know.
"I had supported Sen. Edwards all along ...," he said, "but I'm looking for somebody who can take our nation to the next level without any cause for not getting elected, and I feel he's kind of flailing out there right now."
Picking a new candidate was like choosing between a Maserati and a Ferrari. Schiller knows Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York well, having visited the White House three times when her husband was president. He also admires Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut for his commitment to "big issues." And Bill Richardson earns high marks for pledging to end the No Child Left Behind program.
But Obama inspires him.
"We all know that it's wonderful to be an American," Schiller said. "We need a president who will remind us of that, rather than having us backing into a corner and hiding from terrorism and other issues in the world."
Schiller can't quite believe his own prominence in this whole election process. Maybe it's because he's an elected official in a Democratic county. Or maybe it's his status as a former state teacher of the year. Whatever the reason, his endorsement was a prime target for the candidates.
Then there is the surprising media attention.
"I remember when I had the first interview with the Washington Post about a month ago," Schiller said. "It was like, 'Excuse me?' I thought they were talking about Washington, Iowa.
"But I know that all the eyes of the nation are on Iowa and what Iowans decide could set up a very, very interesting race."
Of one thing Schiller is certain -- his party is picking President George Bush's successor.
"Everybody knows that a Democrat will be the next president," he said. "There's not a question in anybody's mind about that, I don't think."
Still, electability was one of the factors he considered in choosing Obama.
As for that Kennedy reference, Schiller draws parallels between his candidate and the president who called on Americans to "ask what you can do for your country" beyond just their shared power to move a crowd.
Forty-six years ago, he pointed out, Kennedy was the nation's first viable Catholic candidate. Today, it's Obama's political success as an African-American that's unprecedented.
"There's an excitement that I see in his followers and among the leadership roles in his campaign committee," Schiller said. "Part of the news media get on him because, hey, he's the new guy. But it's OK to be the new guy.
"Yes, he has huge goals," he continued, "but if the right Congress is in session, I believe he can accomplish them."