Saturday, February 10, 2007

Barack Is In!

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."

Associated Press writers Deanna Bellandi and John O'Connor contributed to this report.

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