SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - 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
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 commondreams 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
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
"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
Earlier, at a town hall meeting in a packed high school gym in
Cedar Rapids, Obama spoke for an hour but only had time to take
five questions from the audience, covering foreign affairs, defense
and education. The audience groaned when he said he had to leave,
but he promised to return.
"There was a big crowd today," he said. "But let's face it,
the novelty's going to wear off."
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.
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. They got up at 4:30 a.m. to make the speech.
"He makes you feel like it is possible to change things,"
Brenda Talkington said.
She seemed to be reading from Obama's playbook.
He spoke of reshaping the economy for the digital age, investing
in education, protecting employee benefits, insuring those who do
not have health care, ending poverty, weaning America from foreign
oil and fighting terrorism while rebuilding global alliances. But
he said the first priority must be to end the war in Iraq.
"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. He noted that he was against
the invasion from the start.
Obama talked how previous generations have brought change -
fighting off colonizers, slavery and the Great Depression,
welcoming immigrants, building railroads and landing a man on the
"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."
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."
Associated Press writers Deanna Bellandi and John O'Connor
contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Barack Obama campaign site: http://www.barackobama.com
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)