President-elect Barack Obama delivers his victory speech at his election night party at Grant Park in Chicago, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. Obama's convincing victory over Republican John McCain was the culmination of a lengthy campaign, but also capped a meteoric rise for Obama, who went from speaking at the 2004 Democratic convention as an Illinois state legislator to the White House in a four-year span.
"My presence on this stage is pretty unlikely," Barack Obama said at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Seventeen minutes later, his presence on the national stage was virtually assured. Four months after The Speech, the three-term Illinois state legislator won the race to become a United States senator. Little more than two years later, Obama declared himself a candidate for president of the United States.
(Grammy-winning) Rock Star
Barack Obama -- civil rights lawyer, legislator, professor, community organizer, author -- is, above all, a rock star. He has been called that thousands of times, and though meant as a metaphor (a rock star of American politics), he has in fact won a Grammy ... for the recording of one of his (best-selling) books. When he won the senate race, they threw confetti at him and his family, including his daughter Milia.
A Diverse Family
Much of his convention speech, and the subject of his 1995 memoir "Dreams From My Father," focused on his diverse family. Born in Hawaii on Aug. 4, 1961, Obama was the son of a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya who left to study economics at Harvard, and then returned to Kenya, seeing his son just once afterwards. Obama was raised by his mother's parents. In 2006, he visited his father's mother in Kenya.
Obama's mother remarried and moved to Indonesia, where he lived from age 6 to 10. But he mostly grew up in Hawaii with his grandparents Stanley Dunham, a furniture salesman, and Grandma "Toot", who worked in a bank. He talked in The Speech of his grandfather's enlisting after Pearl Harbor, his grandmother's work at a bomb assembly line and how after the war, "they studied on the GI Bill, bought a house through FHA ... "
Barry In High School
Obama was a scholarship student at the Punahou School, an elite prep school in Honololu. Two pages from his 1978 senior class yearbook show him playing basketball, and going by the name Barry. He later insisted on the name on his birth certificate (Barack, which was also his father's name), which means "Blessed" in Arabic. Obama went on to graduate from Columbia University.
Community Organizer, Lawyer, Professor
After graduating college, Obama worked for three years first in Harlem and then in Chicago as a community organizer. He then attended Harvard Law School, where he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. Upon graduating, he returned to Chicago working as a civil rights lawyer, and lecturing on constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School.
Obama married Michelle Robinson, a fellow Harvard Law School graduate whom he had met in Chicago, on Oct. 18, 1992. The Obamas have two daughters, Malia, born in 1999, and Natasha, known as Sasha, born in 2001. Four years after they married, Obama won a seat in the Illinois state legislature, sponsoring legislation on the death penalty and racial profiling.
Luck And Landslide
Obama's race for the U.S. Senate benefited from what he has called "my almost spooky good fortune." His initial Republican opponent -- in a startling repeat of what happened to his wealthiest Democratic primary opponent -- was felled by scandalous revelations from his divorce. Obama won by landslides in both the primary and the general election.
In The Senate
Obama and Dick Durbin, the two U.S. senators representing Illinois, lead a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing in Illinois to address the needs of returning veterans. Obama has sponsored legislation to care for returned U.S. military personnel, as well as laws on lobbying, electoral fraud, and climate change.
Conciliatory and Charismatic
His approach to politics, articulated in The Speech, is to look for common ground: "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America. ...The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States... But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states...."
Blessed, And Beloved
Reactions to Barack Obama have been indisputably ecstatic. In Chicago, Ill., art student David Cordero created "Blessing," depicting Obama as a messianic figure, upper right; crowds surround him in an outdoor rally at Prince Georges Community College in Maryland; Bannie Tannahill holds up a Time Magazine cover at an Obama rally in Austin, Tex.
Statehouse To The White House?
Obama chose the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., where he was a legislator (as was his hero Abraham Lincoln), to announce that he was running for president, Feb. 10, 2007. "There is no doubt that my background is not typical of a presidential candidate," Obama said in an October debate. "That is part of what is so powerful about America."
Second Book, 11 Years After The First
"The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream" argues for using civility and Americans' "shared understandings" to help solve problems. "You don't need a poll to know that the vast majority of Americans -- Republican, Democrat, and independent -- are weary of the dead zone that politics has become," he writes. "[W]e sense -- correctly -- that the nation's most significant challenges are being ignored."
The Clinton Factor
Obama and his wife Michelle talked with Bill Clinton, while running against Clinton's wife. The Obama campaign is reportedly studying tapes of Bill Clinton campaigning, and Obama has praised President Clinton for having "tapped into the pragmatic, nonideological attitude of the majority of Americans."
The Clinton Factor, Part II
But Obama began ratcheting up his criticism of Hillary Clinton. At the Oct. 30, 2007 Democratic debate in Philadelphia, Obama accused Clinton of changing her positions on the North American Free Trade Agreement, torture policies and the Iraq war. Leadership, he said, does not mean "changing positions whenever it's politically convenient."
He has received his own criticism, repeated on "60 Minutes": "The world is too complex and dangerous for this likeable, charismatic, African American neophyte to practice on-the-job training." Some African-Americans don't think he's "black enough." His wife (pictured) has warned people against seeing him as "the next messiah, who's going to fix it all." Clinton's camp accuses him of "old-style personal attacks."
Early Opponent of Iraq War
Obama met with U.S. Army Captain Michael Benoit in July, 2006 to tour New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The only major presidential candidate who publicly opposed the war in Iraq before it even began, he calls for beginning withdrawal of combat troops immediately, to be completed by the end of 2008, and for a new constitutional convention in Iraq, convened with the United Nations.
Universal Health Care Advocate
Obama took an HIV test during his appearance at the 2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church in December. He has made health care one of main themes of his campaign, and proposed a plan for universal health care.
A Real Race
At the Iowa State Fair, Obama drove a bumper car with his daughter Sasha. They look as if they are actually enjoying themselves.