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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)

But in issuing a call for a new generation to take its place at the center of public life, Obama summoned up memories of former President John F. Kennedy and his 1960 campaign.

Obama, 45, is the son of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansas mother. Born in Hawaii, he grew up there, in Indonesia and Kansas.

He graduated from Columbia University and moved to Chicago to begin work as a community organizer on the city's South Side. He later graduated from Harvard Law School, where he served as the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. After law school, he returned to Chicago.

In 1996 he ran for the state Senate and served there for four terms, where he worked for reforms to the death penalty system and helped enact new ethics legislation.

In 2000, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress. Four years later, he launched what seemed like an improbable campaign for the Senate.

Overshadowed initially by two better-funded and better-known opponents, one of whom eventually self-destructed, Obama won the primary. In the general election, Obama easily defeated Republican Alan Keyes, a stand-in for the another GOP candidate who had withdrawn from the race after scandal enveloped his campaign.

He became a national Democratic Party star four months before winning the Senate seat when he delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and called for Americans to overcome the red-blue divisions of recent politics.

Since his stirring 2004 speech at the Democratic convention, and subsequent victory in Illinois, Obama, the only African-American in the Senate, has emerged as a literary and pop culture figure as much as a political one.

His two best-selling books -- and his appearances on "Oprah" and in the pages of People magazine -- have spread his appeal widely over the last few months, turning him to a celebrity in some quarters even as his name recognition across the electorate remains relatively low.

His rivals have suggested that after two years in the Senate he does not have the experience to serve as president. Clinton, in particular, has put her eight years in the White House with her husband at the foundation of her candidacy, saying she would be ready to run the country the moment she took office on Jan. 20, 2009.

Obama, in his announcement speech and interviews leading up to it, began the process of both laying out his professional experience (as a community organizer and a state legislator) and arguing that experience in Washington is not a requirement for becoming president.

In his announcement speech, Obama sketched out an ambitious agenda, one that includes universal health care, ending dependence on foreign oil, reshaping the economy to meet global competition and protect the security of American workers and confronting the specter of global terrorism.


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