Obama Launches Bid to 'Transform' U.S.

By NEDRA PICKLER
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 11, 2007; 2:48 AM

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Barack Obama announced his bid for president Saturday, a black man evoking Abraham Lincoln's ability to unite a nation and a Democrat portraying himself as a fresh face capable of leading a new generation.

"Let us transform this nation," he told thousands shivering in the cold at the campaign's kickoff.

Obama, 45, is the youngest candidate in the Democrats' 2008 primary field dominated by front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and filled with more experienced lawmakers. In an address from the state capital where he began his elective career 10 years ago, the first-term U.S. senator sought to distinguish himself as a staunch opponent of the Iraq war and a White House hopeful whose lack of political experience is an asset.

"I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change," Obama said to some of the loudest applause of his 20-minute speech.

Obama is looking to cap his remarkable, rapid rise to prominence with the biggest political prize of all _ the presidency. His elective career began just 10 years ago in the Illinois Legislature. He lost a bid for a U.S. House seat, then won the Senate seat in 2004, a relatively smooth election made easier by GOP stumbles.

In his speech, Obama did not mention his roots as the son of a man from Kenya and a woman from Kansas, his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia or the history he would make if elected. That compelling biography has turned him into a political celebrity.

Instead, he focused on his life in Illinois over the past two decades, beginning with a job as a community organizer with a $13,000-a-year salary that strengthened his Christian faith. He said the struggles he saw people face inspired him to get a law degree and run for the Legislature, where he served eight years.

He tied his announcement to the legacy of Lincoln, announcing from the building where the future 16th president served in the state Legislature.

"We can build a more hopeful America. And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a house divided to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America," Obama said. His voice rose to a shout as he spoke over the cheers from thousands who braved temperatures in the teens.

"I know it's a little chilly, but I'm fired up," Obama said as he took the podium with his wife Michelle and daughters Malia, 8, and Sasha, 5, with U2's "City of Blinding Lights" blaring on the speakers.

After the speech, the family, several dozen members of the media and the new campaign staff boarded a plane _ "Obama One," a flight attendant called it _ for Iowa, where Democrats are scheduled to have the first chance to vote for the nominee. The senator and his wife greeted reporters in the back of the plane, but Obama insisted he just wanted to say hello and didn't want to be quoted.

"I'm in it to win it," Obama declared at a rally in Waterloo, borrowing what has been the signature line of Clinton's early campaign.


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