Candidate Obama's Sense Of Urgency

Dem. Says He's Not In A Hurry To Run, But Wants To Tackle Problems

Last Updated Nov 15, 2009 8:00 PM EST

One thing you can say with certainty about Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is that there has never been another presidential candidate like him.

He has a foreign sounding name that rhymes with "Osama," his middle name is Hussein, and he has admitted to using marijuana and cocaine as a teenager. Racially he is half black, half white, and in terms of political experience, green.

With just seven years in the state legislature, and two in the United States Senate, it would be easy to dismiss him, were it not for the fact that he is running second in the polls behind Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. On Saturday, 17,000 people braved frigid weather to watch him declare his candidacy in Springfield Ill., where correspondent Steve Kroft joined him on the eve of his speech.

"Three years ago, you were a state legislator here in Springfield. What makes you think that you're qualified to be president of the United States?" Kroft asks.

"You know, I think we're in a moment of history where probably the most important thing we need to do is to bring the country together and one of the skills that I bring to bear is being able to pull together the different strands of American life and focus on what we have in common," Obama replies

Obama says he has no doubts that he's ready to run. Asked where he gets all this confidence, the senator jokes, "My wife asks me that all the time.

As he gave 60 Minutes a tour of the old Illinois capitol where Abraham Lincoln served in the legislature and delivered the House Divided speech, there was much for Obama to be confident about. At age 45, he is one of only three black senators since Reconstruction, the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, and the author of two best selling books.

He is ambitious and just daring enough to invite comparisons to one of the few American presidents, who was elected with even less political experience than he has: Abraham Lincoln.

"He grew into the presidency in ways that I think no body would have anticipated," Obama tells Kroft.

"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," the senator told the crowd during his announcement speech.

On Saturday in Springfield he began a campaign that seems to have morphed out of his latest book tour.

Propelled by the media hungry for a fresh face and a good story, he has graced the covers of Time and Newsweek, the pages of Men's Vogue, and has been endorsed by Oprah.

But it has also been driven by his personal charisma and an ability to connect with people, especially young people, that is rarely seen in American politics.

He has challenged the post baby boom generation to cast aside its cynicism of politics and engage the system. In a speech at George Mason University earlier this month, he evoked Martin Luther King.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice," he told the students. "But here's the thing, young people, it doesn't bend on its own. It bends in that direction because you decide you're gonna stand up to a war that should have never been waged. It bends because you decide that we need a healthcare system for all Americans."

On the campaign trail he is routinely received like a rock star, a far cry from the way he is treated in the corridors of power in Washington, where he is 88th on the Senate's list of seniority.

"I wanna read you a quote from The St. Petersburg Times. 'The world is too complex and dangerous for this likeable, charismatic, African American neophyte to practice on-the-job training,'" Kroft reads.

Asked why he is in such a hurry to run, Obama tells Kroft, "You know the truth is I'm not. We have a narrow window to solve some of the problems that we face. Ten years from now, we may not be in a position to recover the sense of respect around the world that we've lost over the last six years. Certainly, when you look at our energy policy and environment and the prospects of climate change, we've gotta make some decisions right now. And so I feel a sense of urgency for the country."