Obama Declares His Candidacy

This may be part of Obama's attempt to turn questions about his youth and inexperience into an answer about his vigor, freshness, and how he has been unsullied by the nasty politics of yore. Obama in the past has criticized partisan fights between former President Bill Clinton and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., as being the vestiges of old baby boomer wars of the 1960s, called for contemporaries to join him on a generational mission to move beyond all that.

"Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age," Obama said, one of 12 such references to his generation. Obama was born in 1961 and if elected would be the first U.S. president born in the 1950s or '60s. His chief rivals for the Democratic nomination are Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who will turn 60 this year, and former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who is 53.

In the glare of a sun that didn't seem to permeate the cold to provide any warmth, Obama basked in the warmth of his adoring crowd. Law enforcement snipers watched over the crowds on rooftops as Obama, his wife Michelle, and their two daughters Malia, 8, and Sasha, 5, came onto the stage with U2's "City of Blinding Lights" playing in the background.

"And I miss you when you're not around," U2's Bono sang on the recording. "I'm getting ready to leave the ground."

Beyond his message of unity and bipartisanship, Obama's platform seemed a familiar litany of Democratic causes: universal health care, better pay for teachers, affordable college education, international diplomacy, and ending the war in Iraq -- a war that, unlike Clinton and Edwards, Obama has always opposed.

"Most of you know that I opposed this war from the start," Obama told the crowd to cheers. "I thought it was a tragic mistake."

Obama eagerly invoked his record from his state legislative days -- reforming the death penalty system, co-authoring a state Earned Income Tax Credit to ease the tax burden on lower-income families, and work on health insurance for children.

"People see in him a person that's genuine, someone they can trust, someone who's sincere," said Emil Jones, president of the Illinois State Senate and Obama's mentor in Springfield. "I feel about this young man the way I feel about my own son or daughter."

But it's his time in Springfield that his Democratic and Republican opponents plan on exploiting on the campaign trail to argue that behind the moderate message is quite liberal.

Republican State Sen. Bill Brady said that Obama was ideologically one of the most liberal legislators he'd ever met, though they often played poker together.

"I used to kid him, 'If you were near as conservative with the taxpayers' money as you are with your own, the state of Illinois would be in better shape,'" Brady said. "We're not talking about a centrist Democrat who represents Midwestern values."

Jones first met his protégé when Obama was a community organizer in Chicago in 1983. He recalled that his first impression of Obama was a smart, but "rather pushy" young man.

"But he grew on me," Jones said.

Obama concluded his speech with his theme of hope.

"If you will join me in this improbable quest, if you feel destiny calling and see, as I see, a future of endless possibility stretching before us," he said, "then I'm ready to take up the cause and march with you and work with you. Today, together, we can finish the work that needs to be done and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth.

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