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.
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.
Obama gained national recognition with the publication of two best-selling books, “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope,” and by delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004—the same year he was elected to the Senate. His optimistic message and personal story immediately sparked talk of his White House potential.
“He’s young and he’s fresh,” said 22-year-old Rachel Holtz, a graduate student from DeKalb, Ill., who plans to work in education.
Brenda and Michael Talkington, who live near Muncie, Ind., said they have never been involved in a political campaign, but both were laid off from jobs with a lighting company and plan to volunteer for Obama.
“He makes you feel like it is possible to change things,” Brenda Talkington said.
She seemed to be reading from Obama’s playbook.
Obama said it is because of Lincoln that Americans of every race face the challenges of the 21st century together.
“The life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible,” Obama said. “He tells us that there is power in words. He tells us that there is power in conviction. That beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people. He tells us that there is power in hope.”