Obama Joins Race With Goals Set High
Sunday, February 11, 2007
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Feb. 10 -- Illinois Sen. Barack Obama formally opened his campaign for president here Saturday, invoking memories of Abraham Lincoln and challenging a new generation to help him transform the nation.
Standing on the grounds of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln delivered his famous "House Divided" speech against slavery in 1858, the Democratic first-term senator began a bid for the White House that barely seemed possible just a few months ago but could make him the first black president. "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."
Thousands of supporters, some of whom had driven long distances to be here, braved freezing temperatures to join Obama at an event described by many as history in the making. Long before the candidate arrived with his wife, Michelle, and two young daughters shortly after 10 a.m. Central time, the Old Capitol grounds and surrounding areas were packed to capacity.
Against the morning cold, Obama wore an overcoat and a scarf, but no hat or gloves. In his speech, he presented an ambitious agenda that includes bringing an end to the Iraq war, eliminating poverty, ensuring universal health care and creating energy independence. But he seemed to be trying to transcend traditional political debate by arguing that what the country lacks is not good ideas.
"What's stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans," he said. "What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics -- the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems."
Recalling past periods of economic or political crisis, he said, "Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done. Today we are called once more -- and it is time for our generation to answer that call."
The story of Obama's rise has captivated political insiders and ordinary Americans alike. The months ahead will test whether he now can transform himself from political phenomenon into the kind of candidate who can withstand the rigors of the marathon ahead.
Obama will be asked to demonstrate that his dearth of experience is not the liability that some of his rivals suggest, and he will be challenged to fill in the blanks of a policy agenda that is longer on goals than details.
He begins as one of the principal challengers to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), the early favorite for the Democratic nomination. But he must also contend with former North Carolina senator John Edwards, whose progressive agenda and grass-roots campaign threatens to occupy some of the same space Obama aims to seize for his own candidacy. Other more experienced candidates hope to profit if he falters.
For all the enthusiasm that surrounds his candidacy, Obama still faces the reality that Clinton begins with a political machine that is far deeper and broader than his. Obama advisers said their campaign for the nomination may be more unconventional than hers.
"I think that the path to get there has to do with our ability to inspire a lot of people to get involved in this process who have not been involved, or who may have been involved once but lost heart," said David Axelrod, the campaign's chief strategist. "We have to give people a real sense of investment so that the electorate will maybe look a little different."
Obama's sharpest difference with both Clinton and Edwards is his early opposition to the Iraq war; they voted 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.