SPRINGFIELD, Ill – The Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. — where Abraham Lincoln held office before running for president — is the setting for the latest milestone in Sen. Barack Obama's remarkable rise to prominence. The first-term U.S. senator planned to formally announce his candidacy for president Saturday in the city where he began his political career just 10 years ago.
Obama is a newcomer to the national scene, having served just two years in the Senate, but he already is considered Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's chief rival among many vying for the Democratic nomination. He brings a wealth of political skills but a thin elective resume — the very reason he chose to stage his official campaign launch from the steps of the Old State Capitol.
Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president if elected, was tying his bid to the legacy of Lincoln — who served eight years in the Illinois Legislature — while using Springfield to tout his own eight-year record as a state senator.
In a video message on his Web site Friday, Obama said he was launching "a journey to take our country back and change the fundamental nature of our politics."
"I know a lot of you are cynical about the possibilities of that change," Obama said. "Sometimes it seems as if the game is fixed and it only works for the few and the powerful, but I fundamentally believe there is another brand of politics.
"Let's go get to work," he said.
Obama planned to travel throughout Iowa on Saturday and Sunday before returning to Chicago for a rally Sunday night. He planned to visit New Hampshire on Monday on the heels of Clinton, whose first visit to the state as a presidential candidate over the weekend provided some early competition for attention from Obama's announcement.
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 revealed last fall that he was considering it after receiving so much encouragement. He formed a presidential exploratory committee last month.
Since then, Obama has hired some of the Democratic Party's top talent to work on a campaign headquartered in his hometown of Chicago, and he has offered some proposals.
He 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 was not yet elected to the U.S. Senate when Congress voted to give Bush the authority to go to war, but he 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.
His vision of what was to come in Iraq and his opposition to the invasion have helped build his support among the anti-war crowd.