Video: From humble beginnings to Democratic contender

updated 2/20/2008 5:20:38 PM ET 2008-02-20T22:20:38
Transcript

'The Candidates: Barack Obama'premiered on MSNBC Wednesday Feb. 20 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

He commands attention with dynamic style and moving speeches.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: This country will reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come!

TERRY LINK, ILLINOIS STATE SENATOR: Tears were rolling down my eyes.

EMIL JONES, JR.: We were all crying.  We felt so good.

But can the soaring poetry of Barack Obama's campaigning translate into enough votes to propel him to the presidency?

JERRY KELLMAN, CHICAGO COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: No one could have envisioned an African-American being a serious candidate for President of the United States in the way that Barack has become.

Obama has spent his life straddling different worlds. Now he's trying to transcend them.

SANTITA JACKSON, DAUGHTER OF REV. JESSE JACKSON: He's someone who really has taken the leap that I think that all Americans, and that all people, really need to take.

In an MSNBC documentary, learn about the personal and political journey that turned a longshot hopeful into a presidential contender.

OBAMA: On this January night at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do.

It was more than just the cynics saying he couldn't do it. But with his surprise victory in the first presidential caucus of 2008 in Iowa, and the many other primary wins across the country, Barack Obama secures his place as a serious contender for president of the United States. 

Political royalty rolled out the red carpet of endorsements. Caroline Kennedy even sees similarities between Obama and her father, President John F. Kennedy.

CAROLINE KENNEDY, AUTHOR: Fortunately there is one candidate who offers that same sense of hope.

Obama has also garnered support from entertainment heavy hitters like Stevie Wonder, Robert DeNiro and Oprah Winfrey.

But even with his growing popularity, there is an ever-present question: Is America ready for its first African-American president?

JACKSON: Let's get through this primary season first.  But he has a great shot.  I think that his emergence in this season shows us just how far we've come as a nation.

And for all the charm and excitement, Barack Obama is still somewhat unknown, an enigma who has America wondering who he is and where he came from. 

Barack Hussein Obama is born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The name Barack means 'blessed' in Arabic. In an interview he did with the TODAY show in 2004, he makes light about his unusual name.

OBAMA: With the name, I would say my father's from Kenya and my mother's from Kansas and people call me Alabama or Yomama or Bahama. And I think people appreciate the fact that I can joke about it.

Obama's parents, Ann Dunham and Barack Obama, Sr. meet at the University of Hawaii, where they are both students. 

They get married in 1960, but separate when Obama is only two and eventually divorce.  His father leaves the island to attend Harvard University on scholarship to get his Ph.D and leaves Obama and his mother behind.

Obama will not see him again until he is 10 years old, when his father visits the family for a month. They stay in touch, but 11 years later, his father would die in a car accident. The visit will be the last time he sees his dad.

In his 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father," which became a Grammy winning audio book, Obama recalls his mother giving him insight into the father he barely knew.  

AUDIO BOOK: He hadn't cut corners, though, or played all the angles.  He was diligent and honest, no matter what it cost him.  He had led his life according to the principles that demanded a different kind of toughness.

When Obama is 6 years old, his mother remarries an Indonesian man, Lolo Soetoro and the family soon moves to Jakarta, Indonesia. Obama quickly adapts to his new surroundings, a skill that will serve him in the years to come. His early experiences expose him to a melting pot of races and cultures.

OBAMA: I grew up not only in Hawaii, but also in Indonesia in South East Asia. I've got a half-sister who's half-Indonesian who just married a Chinese-Canadian so I've got a new niece who has my DNA, but looks completely different. And so I'm constantly reminded of the fact that I'm connected to the people I see. I know their stories because they're my story too.

KELLMAN: His mom challenged him academically.  I mean she just wanted him to learn as much as he could. 

AUDIO BOOK: Five days a week she came into my room at 4 in the morning, force fed me breakfast and proceeded to teach me my English lesson for three hours before I left for school.

At age nine, Obama’s mother separates from his stepfather. She moves the family back to Hawaii and Obama attends the very prestigious private school Punahou Academy.

ERIC KUSUNOKI, OBAMA'S HOMEROOM TEACHER: He was an all-around guy, well-liked very personable, very respectful. He was very articulate, eloquent, carried himself very well and spoke very well. 

As a teenager, Obama exhibits his competitive side playing basketball and his intellectual side by reading a variety of books, many about African-American life from authors such as Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and Alex Haley.

By the time he is in high school Obama is struggling to make sense of his multicultural background, trying to understand where he fits in.

AUDIO BOOK: I was engaged in a fitful interior struggle. I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know exactly what that meant.

Obama says that in high school he used drugs and drank alcohol. In his book, he explains why. He writes "to push the questions of who I was out of my mind."

In 1979, Obama leaves Hawaii to attend Occidental College in California where that "interior struggle" continues to plague him. 

It's a confusing period of his life, but Occidental College is also where his desire for public service and his gift for public speaking start to take hold. 

AUDIO BOOK: I noticed people had begun to listen to my opinions.  It was a discovery that made me hungry for words.  Not words to hide behind but words that could carry a message, support an idea.

After two years Obama decides to transfer to Columbia University in New York City to study political science.  It is here that he starts to come to terms with who he is and what he is doing. In his book he writes that he stops using drugs and starts applying himself to his studies. After graduating in 1983, Obama is at a crossroads. He is torn between working in the community or working in a corporation.  He takes a job as a research analyst at a consulting firm.

KELLMAN: It was a job to put bread on the table. He viewed the job as sort of biding time and until he could do what he wanted to do, which is find out how to move people on a grassroots level.

Then destiny comes calling in the form of a newspaper ad for a community organizer in Chicago. 

KELLMAN: I arranged for a face-to-face interview and we spent two hours talking to one another he just wanted to learn.  He was very hungry to learn.

Obama gets the job, packs his bags and drives to Chicago.  He doesn't know exactly what lies ahead but somehow he's sure he's now moving in the right direction.

In 1985 Barack Obama leaves New York and a good paying corporate job to work in Chicago’s gritty south side as a community organizer. The job entails coordinating church groups and neighborhood associations - to help them lobby for basic services and amenities. Jerry Kellman runs the organization.

KELLMAN: Barack had opportunities to take a job that would have much more status and much more of a future. So why would he be willing to work for $10,000 a year to come to a city, where he had never lived before and work with the poor? He had to have some strong motivation to do that.

The 24-year-old Obama goes to work in a sprawling project named "Altgeld Gardens."

KELLMAN: So you were isolated: geographically, socially, and politically. And in that sense, it was a very devastated place.

Kellman is relieved he's found an African-American to work with the community, but Obama's still an outsider.

KELLMAN: Just his presence would be upsetting to some of the local politicians who had been able to call all the shots and so they weren't grateful t have him there. So Barack was frequently getting criticized and attacked and often he would come back to the office and vent some frustration.

Local residents are skeptical that the skinny kid with the funny name can help them find jobs or even get basic services. Obama organizes a delegation to meet the local state senator Emil Jones to talk about the problem of teenage drop-outs.

EMIL JONES, JR., PRESIDENT, ILLINOIS SENATE: He was with some ministers in the area and they were organizing to bring about protests to put pressure on the public officials to do something about school dropouts.

Jones is receptive to the proposals for the school-drop outs and immediately hits it off with the young activist.

JONES: He was genuinely sincere. We became good friends while we were working together. 

As a result of those efforts, we were able to go to the State Board of Education, get funding for dropout programs.

But for the next three years there are not many victories for the young grass-roots organizer. The sheer scale of the problems on Chicago’s south side are overwhelming and lead Obama to the conclusion that he needs to find another way to help. He decides to go to law school.

Obama feels that being a lawyer would be useful to him. He's now thinking about running for office where he could have more influence on public policy. Obama does well in law school. He works hard and plays hoops to unwind.

STEVE DONZIGER: He loved to smile. And he really smiled when he give his little fake and put up a jump shot and hit it you know over you.

Obama is often back in Chicago and while working there at a law firm one summer he meets attorney, Michelle Robinson. Though pursuing his legal studies he's still involved with community outreach.

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE: He took me to one of his community organizing trainings on the South Side. It was a basement full of senior citizens mostly African Americans. He took off his jacket rolled up his sleeves and just launched into one of the most eloquent passionate visions of the community and why people need to engage and people just connected with him in the ways that they do now.

JACKSON: He had a hole in his shoe. He had a car that was a thousand years old and barely worked.  He was someone who was consumed with the world of ideas.  And Michelle was a great counterweight to that. She's very, very pragmatic.  You know, she's someone who will say, "Okay, the balloon has floated high enough."  And she is that anchor for him.

Back at law school, Obama goes on to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review, the most prestigious legal journal in the country. He's the first African-American to hold the position.

DONZIGER: When word got out that he was elected President of the Harvard Law Review there was a palpable excitement among the entire student body that we were making history.

Gaining such a position opens a lot of doors for Obama. But he resists taking the conventional route.

DONZIGER: He could have any job in America. He could have clerked for any Judge on the Supreme Court. He could have had the most prestigious professorship in the country. He could have gone to a top law firm and made a princely some of money. And he again went back to Chicago and set down his roots and built on the base that he had created when he was a community organizer after college.

JONES, JR.: Came back to work on voter registration. I guess he liked Chicago. I never knew, at that time, that he did have, in the back of his mind, getting involved more politically as an elected official.

Obama starts to practice civil rights law and to teach at the University of Chicago. All the while he remains active in the community.  But there's more to Obama than building his resume. At the same time he's getting settled in his personal life. He and Michelle marry in 1992 at the Trinity United Church of Christ, a Southside congregation known for it's social activism where Obama finds a spiritual home.

In 1995 Obama's mother dies of ovarian cancer. It happens just a month after Obama publishes his very personal memoir,  "Dreams From My Father,” about his life and his unusual family background.

DONZIGER: It's a book very much about identity. And the amazing thing about the book is that I think it captures one of the extraordinary things that is about him, which is that he really is a confluence of a lot of the strains of American identity all in one person.

In 1996 Obama launches his political career and runs for state senator for the south side district of Hyde Park. His extensive grass roots connections prove invaluable and he's voted in by a sizeable majority. But some of his Democratic opponents claim he's won by playing hardball by going to court to challenge the signatures of supporters they need to enter the primary.

DAVID MENDELL, OBAMA BIOGRAPHER: It did ruffle some feathers among established Democrats in Chicago.

These are standard tactics in the rough and tumble of Chicago politics but some observers think it shows just how impatient Obama is to move up the political ladder.

MENDELL: You know, he's 175 pounds of ambition, there's no doubt about that.

And that ambition will make Obama a force to reckon with on the national stage within a few years.

It's January 1997.  After winning a cut-throat campaign for the Illinois state senate, 35 year-old Barack Obama is sworn in.  In Springfield, the state capital, his political life takes flight.

But the freshman senator is about to hit some turbulence.

MENDELL: He certainly engendered some jealousies among his colleagues, particularly some of his African-American colleagues, who thought, "Who is this guy from Harvard who's dropping in here and thinks he's just all that?"

Obama turns to Senate Minority Leader, Emil Jones, a powerful figure and a friend, from his days as a community organizer on Chicago’s south side.

JONES: He suggested to me, give him any tough assignments, and he would work hard in trying to be, see to it that those assignments were done properly.

But getting these challenging assignments from his mentor only increases the tension between Obama and some of his more experienced senate colleagues.

JONES: At times, I felt sorry for him. He's making the presentation, and members are jumping off and beating him, "What you heck do you know what the heck you're doing?  You just got here," and all that type stuff.  But he prevailed.

In time, Obama makes many political friends and allies, black and white, Republican and Democrat. He becomes known for bridging the political divide to push through a wide array of legislation.

But mostly, the Harvard Law School grad focuses on his less fortunate constituents, helping to deliver tax credits for low-income workers, welfare reforms, increased child care subsidies, and death penalty reform.

Another place Obama becomes known for building bridges: the weekly "special committee meeting."

That would be code for "the Wednesday night poker game."

MENDELL: When you're playing poker and you're drinking beer with your fellow legislators,  you're going to develop a personal connection that can carry over into passing legislation.

In 1999, Obama and his wife welcome their first child, a daughter named Malia.  Another daughter, Natasha, follows two years later.

LINK: He became a very proud father. He was excited. The pictures were proudly displayed in his office.

Obama is serving his second term in the state Senate, but it's clear to those who know him that he doesn't intend to stick around Springfield for long.

After only three years in state politics, he decides it's time to tryand move on to Washington.

OBAMA: We can't afford to wait another 7 years.

In 2000, he takes on a popular incumbent named Bobby Rush in the Democratic Congressional primary. He loses. Badly.

MENDELL: He was a little bit too intellectual in his speeches. And I think he learned that politics is more about connecting with people than showing them how smart you are.

LINK: There was a number of us that had said to him that maybe this wasn't the right idea.  And we were playin' cards that night and nobody really wanted to say anything.  And Barack just looked up, and he says, "All right.  I know you all want to say it.  Don't say it. And it's over."  And we all laughed, and that was the end of it.

Joking aside, Obama is so deflated, he considers dropping out of politics altogether. It only gets worse after the attacks of Sept. 11.

Obama is already at a political low point.  It doesn't help that his name sounds an awful lot like: "Osama bin Laden."

JONES, JR.: I heard comments by certain members when the name Osama and everything, some members even called him that and everything, which I resented them doing that to him based on his name.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States military has begun strikes against al-Qaida terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

At first, Obama, like much of the country, rallies behind the bush administration's move to take out the Taliban.

But a year later, when it becomes clear the priority has shifted to Iraq,Obama is passionately opposed and politically re-energized.

OBAMA: What I do oppose is a dumb war. What I do oppose is a rash war.

DONZIGER: You know, the march into a war, an unnecessary war, when almost the entire country, you know, is behind it. I mean, you have to have guts to do that.

At 41, Barack Obama is aching more than ever to run for national office.

When Illinois Senator Peter Fitzgerald announces he's vacating his seat in April 2003, Obama jumps on the opportunity.

OBAMA: I will be a candidate for the United States Senate in 2004.

LINK: I remember I walked into his office.  And he said, "I got something to ask ya."  And I says, "What's that?"  And he said, "I'm thinking of runnin' for U.S. Senate.  Would you support me?"  And I said, "Yes."  And he looked at me in a puzzled look, and he said, "Don't you have to think about it for a while?" And I said, "No."  I said, "Now you're ready.  And it's the right race.”

But before Obama can win the general election, he's got to win a tough primary. His opponents are formidable.

MENDELL: As these two white candidates, at the top of the ticket, were kind of duking it out over the white vote, he just races right by these two at the end. They were like the two horses in front, butting heads against one another.  And Obama just — raced right by them.

On primary day in March 2004, a stunning victory.

OBAMA:  ...we get this seat for the Democrats in November.

And the Democratic party's top guns suddenly start to take notice.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK: Everyone wanted to talk to him. There was a lot of national attention for a guy who wasn't even a U.S. Senator at that point.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, CQPOLITICS.COM: Winning can put you on the radar.  And Obama all of a sudden was winning when he wasn't supposed to. And a lot of Democrats, who have been watching it from a distance wanted to size this guy up, find out who he is, what he's all about.  Is he going to, you know, keep challenging us all the way to the top?

Obama hasn't even won the U.S. Senate seat when he receives an invitation he wouldn't have dreamtof even a few weeks before. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry asks him to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 democratic national convention. With one speech, Barack Obama is about to become a household name.

It's summer, 2004. Democrats convene in Boston to officially nominate senators John Kerry and John Edwards to challenge George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the November election.

Delegates hear from the biggest names in the party: Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore.

But there's building anticipation about a younger, less familiar Democrat from Illinois who is set to deliver the keynote speech.

LINK: He starts out his speech a little bit slow.

OBAMA: On behalf of the great state of Illinois....

LINK: and then he gets into bein' Barack. 

OBAMA: The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.

LINK: Then the audience gets into it.  

OBAMA: Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!

LINK: It's getting' stronger, and stronger.

OBAMA: This country will reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come. Thank you everybody. God bless.

LINK: Tears were rolling down my eyes.

JONES, JR.: We were all crying.  We felt so good.  Barack had told us before, he said, "Don't worry, I'll do all you guys proud," and everything.  And he did.

MENDELL: Here comes this guy who nobody had heard of, but had a lot of buzz around him. And he hit the ball out of the park.

Obama returns home, confidant and more determined than ever to win a seat in the U.S. senate. His republican opponent, former investment banker Jack Ryan, withdraws from the race, his campaign derailed by a sex scandal.

The Republican party is scrambling to find a candidate, even offering the job to legendary Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka.

MENDELL: The Republican Party here in Illinois was just in a shambles at this point.  And they couldn't find a candidate to run against this great new hope of the Democrats.  They thought, "Gee, we really need to put somebody in there and muddy him up a little bit in this race.

That August, with only three months to the election, radio talk show host and former presidential candidate Alan Keyes moves to Illinois to replace Ryan on the ticket.  The race is short, but contentious. Keyes accuses Obama of "breathtaking naïveté" for criticizing the Bush administration over the war in Iraq. He also goes after Obama for his position on abortion.

ALAN KEYES, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, 1996 & 2000: Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has voted to behave in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved.

JONES, JR.: Barack just stayed above the fray.  And ran a more positive campaign based on the issues.

Obama wins by a landslide, racking up 70 percent of the vote, the largest electoral victory in Illinois history.

On Jan. 4, 2005, with his wife Michelle and their daughters by his side, Obama becomes only the third African-American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.

JACKSON: Dare I say again this is a guy with a hole in his shoe, whose car barely ran, who's just full of ideas. This was just a most excellent adventure.

Once in Washington, Obama sets out to make his mark, but as a freshman senator and with the Republicans in control, his impact is limited.

CRAWFORD: Obama is viewed by other senators as an outside player — someone who has a real ability to captivate the media, but inside the back rooms of the Senate, was not much of a factor.

WOLFFE: I think he found that pretty frustrating that he could do a whole lot more in Illinois than he could do in Washington.

But outside the senate chamber, Obama is increasingly seen as a passionate advocate for the less fortunate, people like the residents of the Gulf Coast reeling from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.

OBAMA: Let New Orleans become the example of what American can do when we come together, not a symbol for what we can't do, or won't do.

Obama's work also extends beyond America's borders.

Traveling to Kuwait, Israel and in 2006 to promote HIV and AIDS prevention, a bittersweet trip to Kenya, where his father grew up and where his grandmother still lives.

CRAWFORD: Obama's journey with his own personal background and his willingness to address it directly presents one of the most unique opportunities for Americans to elect a president who could deal with a region that most presidents, let's face it, have almost ignored.

In just two years, Obama is a major player on the national stage.

Leading up to the midterm elections in 2006, Obama criss-crosses the country, campaigning for Democratic candidates. 

While raising funds and stumping for others, Obama takes the opportunity to constantly criticize the Bush administration.  A growing number of Washington insiders start to think Obama looks more like a presidential candidate than a junior senator from Illinois.

Despite the hype, on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert, Obama pledges to remain in the Senate.

OBAMA: I will serve out my full six-year term.

But just months later, Obama starts to publicly toy with the idea of a White House run.

OBAMA: I have thought about the possibility.

After the election of 2006, the Democrats take control of both the House and Senate for the first time in a dozen years.

WOLFFE: With Democrats taking control, he actually got things moving in terms of the ethics reform a signature moment for him.

The country seems poised for a change and the idea of an Obama presidential run in 2008 is gaining momentum.

Image: Book cover for "The audacity of hope" by Barack Obama
Random House
While promoting his second book, "The Audacity of Hope," Barack Obama finds himself in a highly coveted place— the cover story of Time Magazine.

CRAWFORD: One of the things that magazine cover probably did is send a message to a lot of African-American voters around the country who were concerned that he wasn't a truly electable African-American candidate.


The conjecture builds as the national media continues to debate, "Will he or won't he?"

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL: Is he going to run?

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK: I think Obama definitely has the edge.

DAVID GERGEN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The time has come. He's got to go now.

On a frigid February morning in 2007, Barack Obama ends the speculation and embarks on a an historic journey.

OBAMA: Let me begin by saying thanks to all of you. I know it's a little chilly, but I'm fired up.

Feb. 10, 2007, Springfield Illinois. On a bitter windswept day more than 15,000 people turn out for the announcement they've been waiting months to hear.

OBAMA: In the shadow of the old state Capitol where Lincoln once called on a house divided 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 of America.

VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR ADVISOR TO OBAMA CAMPAIGN: It was really one of the most exciting days of my life. And the busloads of us who went down to Springfield to cheer him on in a sub-zero day. You could just feel the chemistry and the energy in the crowd that day.

The Obama campaign gets off to a fast start. Obama raises $58 million during the first half of 2007, topping all other candidates. More than 16 million of his record-breaking total comes from small donors, those contributing increments of less than $200.

OBAMA: If everybody here decides they wanna get involved in the campaign and they wanna contribute $5, $10, get on the Internet, I don’t want to have to raise money in Hollywood all the time, I'd rather raise it right here in Austin." 

DONZIGER: To me it reflects the mindset of a community organizer. And when you apply that organizing strategy on a national scale, I think you see fantastic results that in many respects are unprecedented.

The race for cash quickly becomes the media's measure of success.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It is a stunning turnaround in the Democratic race. Barack Obama now raising so much money that Sen. Hillary Clinton is no longer the clear frontrunner and presumptive nominee.

OBAMA: All of us have to say "Yes, we can."

Perhaps more than any time in a generation, a presidential candidate is stirring real excitement among young people, minorities and disaffected voters.

Video: 'Obama Girl' has new video

CRAWFORD: Everything about Obama says, "This is different. This is new. This is the future." 

OBAMA: "I am confident that we are going to have an entirely new and better America. Thank you, Los Angeles. I love you."

Obama is candidate as rock star. One of YouTube most popular hits of 2007 is an independently made music video called "Obama Girl."

"OBAMA GIRL" VIDEO:"...cause I got a crush on Obama. I can't wait until 2008, baby, you're the best candidate."

But Obama fever doesn't catch on with everyone. And the conversation can get ugly.

BO DIETL, CHAIRMAN OF NEW YORK STATE SECURITY ADVISORY COUNCIL: What's his middle name, though? What's his middle name? What's his middle name?

DICK MORRIS, BILL CLINTON'S CAMPAIGN MANAGER: And Hussein, which is…

JOHN GIBSON, HOST, FOX NEWS: Bo, come on, look.

DIETL: Well, why don't we just say it as it is.

MORRIS: You're attempting the same racist garbage that you do all over the place.

GIBSON: Dick is making a point, Bo.

DIETL: No, that's not racist. Hey, let me explain something. That's not racist.

CRAWFORD: I've not ever seen a presidential candidate in a circumstance where saying his full name is a dirty trick. 

Hate mail directed at Obama prompts the Secret Service to take the unusual step of protecting the candidates earlier than ever before. 

MENDELL: There are times where I fear for his safety. We have a tendency in this country to extinguish someone who brings a feeling of great hope to the masses. There are times when we were on the campaign trail where I have to concede that I was walking next to a black politician who reminds people of Bobby Kennedy.

Hope and change is the Obama message, and people flock to it. But his rivals and skeptical voters demand more substance, and Obama faces a barrage of attacks on his readiness for office.

SEN. CHRIS DODD, D-CONN.: When he raised issues that are being raised about Pakistan, I think it's highly irresponsible for people who are running for the presidency, and seek that office to suggest that we may be able to unilaterally to invade a nation here that we're trying to get to be more co-operative with us in Afghanistan and elsewhere...

He gets criticized for being too inexperienced, too black, too white, too heavy on rhetoric and too light on policy.

OBAMA: I find it amusing that those who helped authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation, uh, are now criticizing for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism....

He rolls on, block by block, state by state, inspiring more and more voters.

The Democrats' first nominating contest, the Iowa caucus, finally comes in January 2008. Barack Obama pulls a stunning upset. A state that is overwhelmingly white goes for Obama.

OBAMA: You came together as Democrats, Republicans and Independents to stand up and say that we are one nation, we are one people, and our time for change has come.

The critical New Hampshire primary comes next, and Obama is poised for back-to-back victories and an early knockout punch against Hillary Clinton. Pollsters and pundits show Obama with a big lead. But when the votes are counted, Clinton wins decisively.

TERRY McAULIFFE, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: A lot of people, Andrea, said it was gonna be a blowout, it was on TV all day, 10-15 points. We knew that wasn't the case. It's now a one-on-one race. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, as we go forward. We're excited...

After a year of campaigning, the race between Clinton and Obama is far from over. As they head into Nevada, South Carolina, and Super Tuesday, the stakes couldn't be higher.

OBAMA: I am still fired up and ready to go... (cheers)

We've been asked to pause for a reality check.  We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.

After his first loss to Sen. Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, Barack Obama picks up and continues his ambitious quest to become president of the United States. 

CRAWFORD: I always learn more about politicians when they lose. (LAUGHTER) And when Obama lost New Hampshire, I paid very close attention to how he handled himself. He didn't like it.  I think he went into Nevada with a kind of a peevish attitude, having lost New Hampshire, that put him off his game.

While campaigning for the next contest in Nevada, Obama sits down with the editorial board of the Reno Gazette-Journal.  During the interview he makes glowing references to the legacy of former president and Republican icon Ronald Reagan.

OBAMA: I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He tapped into what people were already feeling which was. We want clarity. We want optimism.

Obama's remarks about Reagan are not overlooked by his Democratic opponents. 

JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He created a tax structure that favored the very wealthiest Americans and caused the middle class and working people to struggle every single day. This president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change.

CRAWFORD: There were really two parts to that that got lost.  There was one part where he talked about Reagan and he seemed to diss Bill Clinton which is what aggravated Bill Clinton. When Obama talked about in that interview that the Republican Party was the party of ideas in the last ten to 15 years, he wasn't talking about Reagan. Reagan had been gone in the last ten to 15 years.

After a week of intense campaigning in Nevada, Hillary Clinton wins with 51 percent of the vote there but ironically, Obama wins one more delegate than Clinton.   

WOLFFE: Losing Nevada was a disappointment. They thought they could stop the Clinton momentum right there.

The heat intensifies between Clinton and Obama as the South Carolina primary approaches.  There's a lot anticipation for the South Carolina debate.

Obama predictably finds himself defending his Reagan comment from a few weeks earlier.

OBAMA: So I want to be clear. What I said had nothing to do with their policies.  I spent a lifetime fighting against Ronald Reagan's policies.

CLINTON: I did not mention his name.

OBAMA: Your husband did.

CLINTON: I'm here, Not my husband.

OBAMA: I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.

DONZIGER: I was like, oh my God, that's not what he's about. That's not what this is about.  It shouldn't be like this.  And I just feared it was going to work, you know, against him.

Clinton continues the verbal sparring by accusing Obama of associating with a Chicago slumlord, referring to one of Obama's Chicago fundraisers, Tony Rezco, who is indicted on federal fraud and corruption charges.

CRAWFORD: When Sen. Hillary Clinton raised the issue of Rezco and called him a slum lord, having associated with Obama, was born out of the Clinton campaign's frustration that the media had simply not pursued what should have been, in their view — just a standard routine scrutiny of a presidential candidate.

Obama attempts to downplay his relationship with Rezco but after the debate he vows to give all campaign contributions received from sources associated with Rezco to charity.

In that same week, Obama wins in South Carolina his first primary victory since Iowa.

DONZIGER: It really showed that, you know, he's got a broad based coalition behind him and people don't want to stand for that kind of stuff any more.  And I think in many respects that was a turning point.

CRAWFORD: The Clintons have traditionally been popular with the African-American voters and been able to count on a lot of their support. Obama once and for all proving in South Carolina that he owns that vote really changed the dynamics of the campaign and forced the Clinton campaign into Plan B, C, and D.

Obama continues to gain momentum after the South Carolina win.

He gets a major boost when Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, and Sen. Ted Kennedy announce their support for Obama.

SEN. TED KENNEDY, D-MASS.: I feel change in the air! What about you?

But even the Kennedys can't guarantee a win for Obama on Super Tuesday.  With 22 states voting and John Edwards no longer in the race, Obama and Clinton go head to head. 

The day after Super Tuesday, there is still no clear frontrunner. Obama wins more states but Clinton gains more delegates.

CRAWFORD: Super Tuesday was a loss for Obama. That was an opportunity to lock down this nomination. He needs to prove that he can win a big wide-open primary in a populous state that Democrats need in the general election.

Obama wins the Maine caucus, throwing the Clinton campaign for a loop.  This is a state Clinton had expected to win.

OBAMA: We won by a sizable margin in Maine and I want to thank the people of Maine.

On the same night, Obama celebrates another victory. He's awarded his second Grammy. It's for the audio version of his book, "The Audacity of Hope." In an extra twist he beats the other Clinton, Bill who had also been nominated in the same category.

By the end of the Potomac contests Obama racks up 8 straight wins, giving him a slight lead in delegates and a taste of frontrunner status. His challenge: to maintain the momentum of his campaign.

CRAWFORD: A movement campaign like Obama's has to win.  You have to keep winning. Many of Obama supporters haven't been in campaigns before.  And too many losses — supporters like that can go away.

WOLFFE: He is still a new name. People don't know a huge amount about him. The longer he can talk to people about himself, about his campaign, the better it is for him. 

Regardless of whether Barack Obama becomes the next president of the United States, he's made an undeniable impact on the political landscape.

OBAMA: This is our time.

CRAWFORD: You know, this campaign is a no-lose proposition for Barack Obama. And if he doesn't win this nomination, he's won the hearts and minds of so many people either way, Democrats are going to put forth a nominee who, if elected, is gonna change history and redesign how things are done in Washington.

KELLMAN: It speaks of us as a nation.  That we're ready to be fair and to be open in ways that we haven't- we haven't been previously up until now.  And we feel better about ourselves, I think, because of it.

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