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Obama's journey

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WASHINGTON -- I'm at my desk in my office at the National Press Building here, where I first met Barack Obama in 1999, when the then-state senator from Hyde Park sat in the chair in front of me explaining why he was running for Congress.
We all know he went on to lose that race, run for a Senate seat from Illinois and make the speech of a lifetime at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that captivated the country and put him on the path to the White House. Today, at noon Eastern time, Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States.

I realized that Obama was aiming beyond the Senate after his first year in Washington when I reported in January 2006 on how Obama and his closest advisers had pulled together "The Plan," though I thought at the time that Obama would wait until 2012 to move beyond the Senate.

"The Plan" was drafted by the same Obama inner circle of advisers -- David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, Peter Rouse -- who would shape the Obama presidential campaign and are following him into the White House in senior positions.

Obama traveled to Africa, and on Aug. 21, 2006, outside Cape Town, in South Africa, he paid a visit to former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as the Iraq war raged and the U.S. image abroad was terrible. It was on this African trip that I first sensed how Obama, with his unique biography -- African father, American mother, biracial, black identified, raised in Hawaii and Indonesia -- could be seen as a transformative figure if he secured a place on the world stage.

Tutu told Obama, "You are going to be a very credible presidential candidate."

Obama replied, "Oh no, don't do that."

"Fortunately, because he has my complexion, we can't see that he is blushing," Tutu said. Explaining why he was high on Obama, Tutu said, "People are looking for leaders of whom they could be proud."

At our next stop, in Kenya, where Obama's father was born and buried, Obama and his family were lionized; he was treated as a head of state and got a taste of what could be. Within weeks -- after a book tour that served as an exploratory presidential run -- Obama and his team were pulling together his White House campaign.

The campaign was always generational, aspirational and about hope and change. As the economy nosedived, a quest that was born in part because the U.S. was in the wrong war became focused on saving the nation from another Great Depression. Launched on Feb. 10, 2007, on the square in Springfield where Abraham Lincoln worked, the storyline neatly dovetails with today, when Obama takes his presidential oath on Lincoln's Bible.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on January 20, 2009 9:14 AM.

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