Barack Obama

Candidate Profile |

President Barack Obama was propelled to the White House on his message of change. But after inheriting a collapsing economy and substantial debt from the previous administration, and against a stubbornly high unemployment rate, he is seeking a second term.

Obama's unusual background_ he's the Harvard-educated son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya _ has helped him cultivate an image as a fresh face in Washington willing to take on the establishment in his own party as well as Republicans.

A practicing attorney and constitutional law instructor at the University of Chicago, in 1996 Obama ran for and won a seat in the Illinois Senate, where he represented a South Side district until his U.S. Senate run in 2004.

As a state lawmaker, he worked to overhaul Illinois' death penalty, require police to videotape interrogations in murder cases, create a tax credit for poor families and expand health care for children. He made friends and poker buddies on both sides of the aisle and was seen as pragmatic.

In 2000 a primary opponent blocked a run for Congress, but that setback has faded against his strikingly fast rise to national prominence.

Obama began his 2004 Senate campaign as a little-known state lawmaker driving around Illinois, trying to raise money and his profile. By the summer, he had generated enough buzz for Democratic National Convention organizers to offer him a coveted opportunity to deliver a key note speech. He lit up the crowd and walked out of the convention a national political commodity. By Election Day, he was flush with cash and jetting across the country on behalf of other candidates. Obama's original opponent had dropped out of the Senate race, and on Election Day he crushed the replacement _ out-of-state commentator Alan Keyes.

In the U.S. Senate, Obama backed legislation to promote the use of ethanol and to increase fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. He also has advocated for the poor, particularly victims of Hurricane Katrina.

He teamed with conservative GOP Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to back legislation setting up an Internet database of all federal contracts and earmarks to enable citizens to track the way government spends their money.

Obama also rose in popularity and recognition after writing two bestselling books, "Dreams from My Father," and later "The Audacity of Hope," drawing star power from Hollywood's elite including Oprah Winfrey.

Obama announced his first presidential bid in February 2007 and stunned New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by winning the Iowa caucuses and finishing a close second in New Hampshire. Before that, national polls had Obama consistently trailing Clinton, who emphasized her experience in Washington and the political asset represented by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. She has also jumped on some of Obama's statements to portray him as out of his depth on foreign policy.

Obama rejected such complaints. "My call for a new foreign policy is based on the same thing that informed my opposition to the war in Iraq: common sense, not conventional Washington thinking," he said.

Hallmarks of his presidency include the hard-won overhaul of the nation's health care system; implementation of the landmark New START treaty that caps American and Russian nuclear arsenals at their lowest levels since the 1960s; appointment of two women to the Supreme Court, one of whom, Sonia Sotomayor, is the first Hispanic justice. Under his orders, Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader responsible for the 9/11 attacks against the United States, and many other operatives of the terrorist group.

A confident man with an easygoing manner, Obama has said his diverse background probably contributes to his appeal, which crosses racial and geographic lines. Obama and his wife, Michelle, are especially popular among Americans for the importance they place on family, often mentioning their two daughters and reserving weekends for family time.

American Conservative Union Rating: Not rated

Americans for Democratic Action Rating: Not rated

Source: Associated Press

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PROJECT: Wilson Andrews, Jason Bartz, Ryan Kellett, Katie Parker, Leslie Passante and Serdar Tumgoren - The Washington Post. Published Oct. 8, 2012.

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