Obama Becomes First Black Democratic Presidential Nominee

The third black senator since Reconstruction beats Clinton for nomination.


June 3, 2008— -- After a bruising battle, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has won enough delegates to clinch the Democratic Party's presidential nomination becoming the first African-American major party presidential candidate in the nation's history.

But the candidate emerges battered after a bitter, five-month fight against Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who was vying to become the party's first female presidential nominee and was once considered the likely nominee.

Delivering soaring speeches tied to a popular message of hope and change, Obama's insurgent candidacy inspired record-breaking campaign contributions, record turnout by black voters, and wide support from independents, liberals, young voters, and high-income, better-educated Democrats.

Although he won the majority of primary contests -- 33 to Clinton's 20, not including Michigan and Florida -- the Illinois senator struggled to win the support of white, blue-collar voters, older voters and Hispanic voters.

The issue of race cropped up again and again for the man seeking to become the nation's first black president.

When tapes of Obama's longtime pastor excoriating America surfaced, the Illinois senator distanced himself from his pastor, and ultimately from his Chicago church, delivering a widely applauded speech on race and religion.

If Obama is elected president, he will be, at 47, among the youngest presidents in U.S. history. His Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would be the oldest presidential candidate to win a first term in office at age 72.

No stranger to record books, Obama, became the fifth African-American senator in U.S. history and was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.

Born to a white, American mother and a black, Kenyan father, Obama has spoken openly of his struggle to find acceptance in the black community.

First living in Hawaii, Obama's family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, when he was 6, where he lived for a time with his mother and Indonesian stepfather. He has credited his upbringing for making him sensitive to America's flagging image abroad.

Attending Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama worked as a community organizer, a constitutional law professor, and a lawyer in Chicago before becoming a senator in the Illinois state Senate in 1996.

Over his eight years in the Illinois Capitol, Obama earned a reputation as a consistently liberal senator who reflected the views of voters in his Chicago district. He also developed a reputation as someone willing to reach across the aisle to build consensus.

Obama's 2004 bid for the Senate was filled with dramatic turns in his favor.

In a crowded Democratic field, Obama emerged with the Democratic nomination after allegations of domestic abuse and a well organized Obama effort felled his opponent.

Jack Ryan, the Republican nominee, left the race after a court ordered divorce records be released, leaving Obama unopposed until former presidential candidate and conservative radio commentator Alan Keyes, who lived in Maryland, took Ryan's place.

Obama won in a landslide.

Many Americans -- indeed, many Democrats -- had never heard of the charismatic politician before he delivered a stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July 2004.

He called on Americans to leave behind party polarization, saying, "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America."

The speech instantly made Obama a star, with political pundits suddenly predicting the state senator who had not yet been elected to the U.S. Senate might someday be positioned for a presidential run.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said at the time that during a meeting with President Bush in February of 2004, the Congresswoman wore an Obama button on her coat.

"I don't know him," Bush said, according to Schakowsky.

"Oh, you will, Mr. President," she responded.

Obama's newfound stardom and oratory skills made him a draw at political events and fundraisers across the country, able to attract media attention and raise money for other Democrats.

Expanding on his speech, Obama's 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope:Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," rocketed up The New York Times best-seller list.

Even his candid admission that he used cocaine and smoked pot in high school and college , in his first book, "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," did little to tarnish his image as an up-and-coming political phenomenon.

Announcing his presidential bid in February 2007 on the steps of the Illinois state legislature where Abraham Lincoln gave a famous speech condemning slavery and calling for the United States to unite, Obama said that as president he would heal a divided nation.

"I know that I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change," Obama said.

Obama has focused his campaign on pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, universal health care, and stimulating the economy with a middle-class tax cut.

At a time when the majority of Americans believe the Iraq War was a mistake, Obama reminded voters that his closest Democratic rivals, Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, voted to give President Bush the authority to wage the war.

Last year, Clinton was considered the front-runner, with big-money donors backing her bid, not to mention a political team mirroring her husband's inner circle and an organized effort to attract women voters.

But Clinton's message of experience, Washington resume and her front-runner strategy left some Democrats cold and open to Obama's and Edwards' anti-Washington message.

Waging an outsider campaign, Obama's campaign raised a record-breaking $58 million during the first half of 2007, and boasted record-breaking support among people donating $200 and less.

Obama also attracted high-profile celebrity endorsements from talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey, and won highly sought-after Democratic establishment support from Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, Sen. John Kerry. D-Mass., and California first lady Maria Shriver.

As voters went to the polls in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, Obama's campaign raised $36.8 million, the most ever raised in one month by a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries.

Obama split early voting state victories with Clinton in January, winning Iowa and South Carolina, and narrowly losing New Hampshire and Nevada.

Gaining momentum, Obama racked up more convention delegates than Clinton in all of the early contests.

With Clinton and Obama running neck and neck, the Democratic campaign took on a decidedly negative tone.

Days before the New Hampshire primary, Bill Clinton questioned Obama's record on Iraq, saying it was wrong he was able to trumpet superior judgment on Iraq by claiming he had been against the war from the start.

"Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," Bill Clinton said.

The former president also drew outrage when he compared Obama's South Carolina win to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's primary wins in the state in 1984 and 1988.

The comments created a furor, with some suggesting Clinton was trying to dismiss Obama and bring attention to his race.

During the media firestorm over the issue, Clinton told a Philadelphia radio station the Obama campaign was playing the race card.

"I think that they played the race card on me. And we now know, from memos from the campaign and everything, that they planned to do it all along," Clinton said in a telephone interview with WHYY.

Trailing the two front-runners, Edwards dropped his presidential bid days before the Super Tuesday sweep of primaries Feb 5, when 22 states held primaries and caucuses.

With Obama and Clinton locked in a tight, escalatingly bitter fight for delegates, the first-of-it's kind Feb. 5 Democratic primary contests did nothing to clarify the Democratic field when Obama and Clinton traded Super Tuesday victories.

Obama went on to win 12 straight primary contests in February, but lost contests to Clinton in the delegate-rich states of Ohio and Texas.

His failure to wrap up the nomination and secure the number of delegates needed to win left him open to attacks by the Clinton campaign, which said he wasn't experienced enough to be commander-in-chief and that she was the better candidate to win against McCain.

Obama and Clinton continued to trade primary victories throughout the campaign, exposing the Illinois senator's weakness in attracting white, blue-collar voters.

In March tapes surfaced of incendiary sermons by Obama's longtime pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in which the pastor said, "God Damn America" for the way it treats blacks, and said the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own "terrorism."

Obama gently distanced himself from Wright, now retired, who had been his pastor for more than 20 years, who had married Obama and his wife, Michelle, and baptized both of his daughters.

The controversy led Obama to make one of the most stirring speeches of his campaign on the issue of race. Standing in the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Obama condemned Wright's remarks, and then offered a historical perspective, citing "the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through."

"Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that the Rev. Wright made in his offending sermons about America -- to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality," Obama said.

After Wright reiterated some of his remarks during a speech at the National Press Club and in television interviews, Obama strongly denounced him. He later resigned from the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago after another pastor, Father Michael Pfleger mocked Clinton.

Obama's speech on race prompted New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to endorse Obama, and other superdelegates followed.

After a stinging defeat in North Carolina and barely squeaking out a win in Indiana, Clinton vowed to stay in the race at least until the last primaries June 3, despite the fact that she trailed Obama in pledged and unpledged delegates, and her campaign was bleeding money.

The Clinton campaign announced in May that the senator had loaned herself $6.425 million -- bringing her personal loans to her campaign to $11.425 million -- making her the second biggest self-funder this election cycle, behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

In a dramatic effort to woo superdelegates to his campaign, and perhaps to allay concerns that he fails to win the support of white, blue-collar workers, Obama announced he has won the coveted endorsement of his former Democratic rival, former Sen. John Edwards.

Clinton fought until the last primary contests were held in Montana and South Dakota June 3, hoping a surge of support from superdelegates -- those 797 party officials, members of Congress and state party leaders who can vote for any candidate they choose at the party's Denver convention in August -- would allow her to catch up to Obama's delegate lead.

After a bruising primary nomination contest, Obama now faces the task of uniting the Democratic Party behind him while taking on McCain and Republican opponents who have been content to watch the two Democratic candidates tear at each other during a six-month-long primary season.

A relative unknown before the primary race, Obama now faces a presidential contest against a former prisoner-of-war turned maverick GOP senator with strong defense policy credentials.

Obama goes into the general election as the new kid on the block, younger and less experienced but armed with an appealing message of hope and change against a Republican tied to the Iraq War.

The Democratic presidential candidate may also benefit from a Republican president with record-low approval ratings, and 82 percent of Americans who say the country is seriously on the wrong track.

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