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Obama Formally Launches Presidential Bid

Sen. Barack Obama speaks to a crowd gathered on the lawn of the old State Capital Building in Springfield, Illinois. Obama announced to the crowd that he would seek the Democratic nomination for President.
Sen. Barack Obama speaks to a crowd gathered on the lawn of the old State Capital Building in Springfield, Illinois. Obama announced to the crowd that he would seek the Democratic nomination for President. (Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

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By Dan Balz and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 10, 2007; 2:50 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Feb. 10 -- Illinois Sen. Barack Obama formally launched his candidacy for the White House here this morning, invoking memories of Abraham Lincoln and challenging a new generation of Americans to help bridge political divisions and transform the nation.

Standing on the grounds of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln delivered his famous "house divided" anti-slavery speech in 1858, Obama opened what he described as an audacious campaign for president, one that barely seemed likely only six months ago -- and one that could make him the first African American ever to reach the White House.

Obama spoke on a sunny, frigid morning on the Illinois prairie, frankly acknowledging his limited experience on the national stage. "I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness - a certain audacity - to this announcement," he said. "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."

He then issued a call to his enthusiasts to do what other generations have done in times of political or economic crisis. "Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done," he said. "Today we are called once more -- and it is time for our generation to answer that call."

In the hours before Obama spoke, several thousand people thronged the streets of Springfield, despite the wintry weather, excited by the prospect of witnessing what could be a history-making presidential campaign. In a matter of months, Obama has gone from political phenomenon to full-fledged challenger for the White House.

The days ahead will test whether he can withstand the rigors of the long battle for his party's nomination and whether he can translate the energy surrounding his prospective candidacy into the machinery necessary to win that contest.

Obama begins as one of the principal challengers to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the early favorite for the Democratic nomination. But there are other candidates with whom he must contend, among them former North Carolina senator John Edwards, whose progressive agenda and grassroots-based campaign threatens to occupy some of the same space Obama hopes to seize for his own candidacy.

Obama's sharpest difference with both Clinton and Edwards was his early opposition to the Iraq war and their votes for the 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq.

Edwards has since apologized for his vote and Clinton has said she would not have voted that way had she known then what she knows now.

But Obama can point to remarks he made in the fall of 2002 in which he not only called the war "dumb," but predicted the dangers of the long occupation that followed the successful invasion.

"It's time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war," he said. "That's why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008. Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace. "

The formal announcement was rich in symbolism. Beyond the setting, Lincoln was woven throughout the speech, even to the point where the gangly Obama recalled a "tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer" who had ended slavery and led the nation though one of its darkest moments.

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