Campaign Trail '08: Who Is Barack Obama?

Few politicians have ever been so adored with so little known about them as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Ever since Obama burst onto the scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he has been exposed and overexposed as the center of a media and public frenzy.

The details of his life make one want to know more -- mom from Kansas, dad from Kenya, grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia. He was the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review, and the name Barack means "blessed" in Swahili.

It's a flood of impressive and exotic detail that has turned the calm and charismatic senator into a potential legend in the making.

He's an impressive orator, wowing crowds with a message that matches the title of his best-selling book, "The Audacity of Hope."

At the breaking of the MLK Memorial in Washington last November he offered a reminder of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy in the current political climate.

"Strength is defined not simply by the capacity to wage war, but by the determination to forge peace," Obama told the crowd of activists and politicians.

But friends and colleagues close to him say that Obama has a lesser known quality that you don't normally associate with politicians -- he actually hears people.

"Unlike some people who make a show of listening and then announce their own opinion, he always struck me as a person who really was trying to listen -- and not just listen but understand," said Brad Berenson, a classmate of Obama's from law school.

Inspiration from the Grassroots

Maybe it was that quality to hear the plight of others that helped Obama find his political passion through community organizing.

Just out of college, he spent three years in Chicago's south side as a community organizer. On the city's poverty-stricken streets, Obama started to think about how he could make a difference for the underprivileged.

He walked the streets of inner city Chicago and preached empowerment, even to panhandlers.

Mike Kruglik, who worked with Obama as an organizer, says, "he would look at the person and say, 'young man, is this really what you want to be about?' He says, 'I think you're better than that.'"

He's also a man that's not afraid to make bold moves. How did Obama meet his wife Michelle? She was his mentor at a Chicago law firm, and he persisted until she agreed to go out with him.

"At first she was a little hesitant whether it was appropriate to date him, but typical Barack he was relentless and he won the girl," says Valarie Jarrett, a family friend.

He got the girl, but that girl holds her own. On "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Obama said that Michelle could do a better job in office than him. And her decision to sign off on his presidential bid was essential to his choice to enter the 2008 race for the White House.

"If she said no, he wouldn't be doing it, there's no doubt in my mind about that," says Jarrett.

So is there anything not to like about the senator from Illinois? Well, he doesn't like Baskin Robbins ice cream after spending a summer scooping the stuff for a part-time job.

And Obama is a closet smoker, though he's never been photographed with a cigarette. Since he dipped his toe into the presidential waters, he's said he's quit cold turkey.

When Michelle introduced her husband for his 2004 victory speech, she said, "no one could have predicted that the next United States senator from the state of Illinois would have been a skinny guy with no money and a funny name."

If Obama-mania can last through a presidential campaign, she just might be repeating that refrain.

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