Only a few black candidates in U.S. history have managed to do that. Since Reconstruction, the number of African Americans who have been elected senator or governor can be counted on one hand: governors Wilder and Patrick and senators Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Obama. (Brooke was a Republican; the rest are Democrats.)
Ken Lewis, a classmate of Michelle Obama at Harvard Law School, says Barack Obama's vision, not his race, inspired him to run for the Democratic Senate nomination in North Carolina this year. The corporate and securities lawyer from Chapel Hill got 17% of the vote in the May 4 primary.
Despite his third-place finish, Lewis says the political landscape for African Americans like himself has changed for the better in the wake of Obama.
"I've entered many rooms in North Carolina — classrooms, courtrooms, boardrooms — where my presence in that room was unique, and so I know what it feels like to enter a room where the question prevailing in the room is, 'Why are you here?'
"In this campaign, the question instead was, 'What do you have to say and what are you about?' ... I think that's a very significant development."
Lewis, 48, says he would consider running for office again.