Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Obama Formally Launches Presidential Bid"

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.

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.

Critical of Bush's presidency and what he said are the unmet challenges, Obama decried the cynicism that he said pervades the political process and called on those disillusioned by a culture of special interests and grid-locked politics to join him in his campaign.

"The time for that politics is over," he said. "It is through. It is time to turn the page, right here, right now." The line was met by enthusiastic chants of "Obama, Obama."

The crowd was filled with committed Obama supporters who lifted signs -- "Barack the Vote" was among the more creative -- and cheered in waves as the candidate spoke.

But not everyone had made up their minds.

Shanna Shipman, 27, brought her two young daughters from the town of Pekin, near Peoria, to hear Obama even though she fiercely opposes him on abortion. "I will scream from the mountaintops that I am pro-life," said Shipman, who did not vote for Obama for Senate but is considering him for president now. But, she said: "This is history in the making. I am certainly supporting his spirit."

A U.S. Marine in full military dress, who gave his name as Thomas, stood at the edge of the crowd taking pictures. He did not want to give his last name, for fear that his military bosses would take his participation with an anti-war candidate as a protest. But he said of Obama after the speech: "He's got a lot of great ideas and plans for the future."

Even more enthusiastic were several dozen students from the Illinois School for the Deaf, who drove from the town of Jacksonville to see the announcement. Through a sign language translator, Britney Williams, 17, described herself as a huge Obama fan. "I liked when he said we had to work together," she said.

Dan Hankiewicz, and his wife, Rebecca, both state government workers in Springfield, said it was Obama's timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, by early 2008, that impressed them most. Although they said the show of support on Saturday morning reflected the senator's overwhelming popularity in Illinois, Hankiewicz added: "I think the word is going to spread quickly. He's got that rock star quality."

Although his campaign infrastructure is still being built -- his advisers only moved into their Chicago headquarters last week -- the event had many of the trappings of a campaign that has been building for months, including a new Web site launched in conjunction with the announcement.

Obama's new logo, a blue letter "O" that evokes a rising sun, appeared on buttons and t-shirts. There were traditional campaign trappings as well, from the red-white-and-blue bunting that hung from the windows and groups of volunteers and advisers who spent the preceding day hammering together a set and stage for the speech.

AP (Nedra Pickler):

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Democrat Barack Obama declared himself a candidate Saturday for the White House in 2008, evoking Abraham Lincoln's ability to unite a nation and promising to lead a new generation as the country's first black president.

The first-term senator announced his candidacy from the state capital where he began his elective career just 10 years ago, and in front of the building where in another century, Lincoln served eight years in the Illinois Legislature.
"We can build a more hopeful America," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery. "And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house 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."

Obama did not mention his family background, his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia or that he would make history if elected president.

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 before becoming a U.S. senator just two years ago.

"I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness, a certain audacity, to this announcement," Obama 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.

"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, 45, 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 2004 Democratic National Convention. His optimistic message and his compelling biography immediately sparked talk of his White House potential.

Initially he said he would not run for president. But he said last fall that he was considering it after receiving so much encouragement. He formed a presidential exploratory committee last month.

Despite his thin political resume, Obama is considered New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's chief rival among many vying for the Democratic nomination.

Obama planned to travel throughout Iowa on Saturday and Sunday before a rally Sunday night in Chicago, where his campaign has its headquarters.

He planned to visit New Hampshire on Monday on the heels of front-runner Clinton, whose first visit to the state as a presidential candidate over the weekend provided some early competition for attention from Obama's announcement.

Thousands of people in their warmest winter wear came out for Obama's campaign kickoff despite temperatures in the teens. The crowd huddled in close for warmth and to squeeze into the closed off streets around the Old State Capitol.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us," said Bethany Scates of Ridgway, Ill., who drove four hours with her family for the announcement.

Brenda and Michael Calkington of 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 Calkington said.

She seemed to be reading from Obama's songbook.

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, fighting terrorism while rebuilding global alliances.

"But all of this cannot come to pass until we bring an end to this war in Iraq," Obama said. "America, it's time to start bringing our troops home. 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."

Obama was not yet elected to the U.S. Senate when Congress voted to give Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq, but Obama gave a speech in 2002 opposing the war. He said Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat to the United States and predicted the invasion would lead to an occupation with undetermined costs and consequences.

Obama has introduced a bill to prevent President Bush from increasing troop levels in Iraq and to remove U.S. combat forces from the country by March 31, 2008 - legislation that has virtually no chance of becoming law while Bush is president.

Obama's address was steeped in American history.

He 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 moon.

He repeatedly referred to Lincoln and his success in moving a nation. He 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."

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