How Barack Obama Got To The White House

President Barack Obama over presidential seal, U.S. Flag CBS

It is impossible not to marvel at how unexpected Barack Obama's arrival to this moment in history was just a few years ago. CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Bill Plante looks at the twists and turns of his life and campaign that brought him to this point.
"Hope is what led me here today. With a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas ..."

- Barack Obama, Jan. 3, 2008, after winning the Iowa caucuses

Mr. Obama was raised mostly in Hawaii, by his mother and his grandmother. His only contact with his father came briefly at the age of six, but the parent he calls "the old man" had an impact.

"I always offer up this quote: 'Every man's either trying to live up to his father's expectations or make up for his father's mistakes,'" he told CBS News back in Iowa. "And, you know, I suppose for me not having a father in the home led me to do both."

A chance meeting after graduating from Columbia brought him to Chicago to work as a community organizer. It was that experience which he used 17 years later when he ran what some call the most disciplined presidential campaign ever run.

"It all starts with community organizer, bottom up," said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. "To go from door-to-door to talk to people and listen, that's the guiding principle from the very beginning."

Harvard Law School gave him a taste of success when he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, an honor he could have parlayed into legal stardom, "someone who could have easily been clerking for the most prestigious federal judges, working in one of the biggest law firms," said John Schmidt, a Project Vote fundraiser.

Instead, Mr. Obama returned to Chicago, and spent six months in 1992 running a voter registration project on the South Side.

"Our task was simple: to get disenfranchised communities - minority communities, low income communities - to turn out to vote," Mr. Obama says in a YouTube video.

The registration drive was a big success.

"It impressed a lot of people, it created some people who were a little jealous, this young upstart was to come in and be taken quite so seriously," says Judson Miner, Mr. Obama's former employer.

Obama went to work for Miner's civil rights law firm, and won a state senate seat in 1996.

"There were elements in the African American community in Chicago who thought Barack was sort of an elitist," remembers Miner.

And that's one reason Mr. Obama lost badly when, in 2000, he challenged a popular member of Congress.

Four years later he ran for the U.S. Senate. The Republicans ran Alan Keyes, who didn't even live in the state. Obama won by a margin of 43 points.

Then, in 2004, before Mr. Obama won a seat in the U.S. Senate, Democratic nominee John Kerry offered Mr. Obama a huge national platform - the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.
"People don't expect government to solve all their problems, but they sense deep in their bones that with a slight change in priorities we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life.
"That's when most people turned their heads and said wow, who's that guy? Where's he from?" says Trippi.

Mr. Obama entered the 2008 presidential contest an underdog, reports Plante.

"He is the perfect combination of old school politics, an open politics, a grassroots bottom-up community organizer, but also a backroom dealer," Trippi says.

On Jan. 3 last year, Barack Obama stunned the political world with a resounding victory in the Iowa caucuses

"Because we are not a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States of America," Mr. Obama said.

He lost the next contest, in New Hampshire, to Hillary Clinton. But his hidden strength was already producing results.

A viral passion ignited in the grassroots, which brought him enormous sums of money and an army of campaign volunteers. That, combined with voters' desire for change and dissatisfaction, and with the economy, helped him defeat John McCain.

"It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America," Mr. Obama said in his victory speech on election night.

The young man with the audacity to reach so high so soon had proved it was a risk worth taking.



Send your pictures, videos and e-mails on Inauguration Day activities to Natali del Conte Tuesday morning, at obama@cbseyemobile.com.

If you're on Twitter, you can "tweet" us at Twitter.com/theearlyshow.




To see the CBSNews.com Special Report: Inauguration '09," click here.
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