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Barack Obama

  b. 1961 | American President

At The Bottom
 2000

"Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool..."

Barack Obama was not doing well.  “I knew in my bones that I was going to lose,” he wrote in his second book, The Audacity of Hope.  “Each morning from that point forward I awoke with a vague sense of dread, realizing that I would have to spend the day smiling and shaking hands and pretending that everything was going according to plan.” After serving three years in the Illinois State Senate as a representative of the 13th district in Chicago, 39-year-old Barack Obama was running for US Congress, challenging the Democratic incumbent, Bobby Rush, in the party’s March primary.  Though he’d lived in the city for less than a decade, Obama sought to move onto the national stage by replacing Rush, a longtime Chicago political activist who had served three terms in the House of Representatives and was an overwhelming favorite to keep his seat.  Obama was eager and ambitious but was unknown to many voters, and the 53-year-old Rush was able to portray him as a young, inexperienced outsider.  “Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool,” Rush commented during the race. He argued that Obama had neither the experience nor the community roots necessary to serve in Congress.  Rush handily defeated Obama, who received a mere 30 percent of the vote.  “He spanked me,” Obama recalled several years later.

At The Top
 2009

Obama defeated Arizona Senator John McCain, winning 53 percent of the popular vote and almost 70 percent of the electoral tally.

At noon on a sunny Tuesday, Barack Obama looked out into a massive crowd, including many of the most powerful and famous Americans and ocean of other well-wishers, who chanted his name as they prepared to watch him take the oath as the 44th President of the United States.  After winning the Democratic Party’s nomination after a difficult and bitter campaign the previous summer, Obama defeated Arizona Senator John McCain, winning 53 percent of the popular vote and almost 70 percent of the electoral tally.  In the midst of a terrible economic crisis, the nation’s voters had elected an African American — a “skinny kid with a funny name,” as Obama had described himself — to lead them.

The Comeback

Obama possessed great political skill and an ability to connect with ordinary people.

Obama’s crushing loss to Bobby Rush turned out to have many silver linings.  He introduced himself to a wider political audience and developed friendships and political alliances that would serve him well over the next few years.  Obama possessed great political skill and an ability to connect with ordinary people, so it was only a matter of time before the right opportunity emerged.  In 2003, Obama announced that he would run for the US Senate against Republican Peter Fitzgerald; when Fitzgerald decided not to run and the Republican front-runner dropped out when embarrassing details about his divorce were released, Obama cruised to an easy victory.  Meanwhile, his national stature had increased when he delivered a widely praised keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, where he expressed his belief in the “audacity of hope” that Americans could face uncertainty and difficulty together.  It was a message he’d return to many times over the next few years, and it was a message that helped carry him to an unlikely victory in 2008.

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