State Sen. Barack Obama (search) might not be a household name, but his decisive victory in the state's primary for a U.S. Senate seat has given Democrats something to smile about.

"He looks like the real deal," said David Wilhelm (search), former chairman of the Democratic National Committee (search). "He's a guy who's lived a committed life and a guy who has an extraordinary record as a legislator."

Obama's early opposition to the war in Iraq drew the attention of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. But the endorsements he received from many of the state's newspapers as well as his strong showing downstate Tuesday seem to indicate that he can reach beyond the left wing and become only the third black U.S. senator in a century.

The Democratic Party has made Illinois and the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (search) a top priority for November. Obama, 42, next faces GOP nominee Jack Ryan (search).

Obama was born in Hawaii to a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, earned a degree in political science from Columbia University and went on to Harvard Law School.

He worked as a community organizer in New York and Chicago on job-training programs and other projects, and as a civil rights lawyer. He is now a senior instructor in constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School.

In the state Senate, Obama is chairman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee and serves on a judiciary committee. He counts passage of a law requiring the taping of interrogations in death penalty cases and Illinois' Earned Income Tax Credit among his legislative accomplishments.

"We've got six hard months of work to do first," he said in an interview Monday. "We feel confident that our message can resonate with voters and can contribute to the national debate. But right now we're just worried about getting elected."