How Barack Obama Works


Barack Obama Image Gallery Obama strides across the stage at a campaign rally in Los Angeles in February 2007. See more pictures of Barack Obama.
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Throughout­ the first half deca­de of the 21st century, the Republican Party controlled Congress and the White House. The voting public perceived that Congress was making little progress in addressing issues, however [source: Murray]. When the 2006 Congressional elections rolled around, the Democrats won both the House and Senate back. To the Democrats, it was a clear mandate: "The American people have spoken clearly and decisively in favor of Democrats leading this country in a new direction," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid [source: Los Angeles Times].

As the next two years wore on, however, the Democratic-led Congress faced similar disapproval. "Congress is not getting its work done," criticized President George W. Bush in November 2007, saying the House and Senate had both "wasted valuable time" [source: CNN].

If there's one clear message Barack Obama wants to get across to the voters, it's that he represents change. He's been called "the first viable black presidential candidate" [source: The Washington Post]. He is the son of a black Kenyan and a white Kansan who divorced. He was raised outside of any organized religion, schooled in Indonesia and admitted to using drugs as a young man. He beat Al Franken and George Carlin, among others, receiving the 2006 GRAMMY® Award for "Best Spoken Word Album" for the audio version of his book, "Dreams from My Father" [source: Billboard].

Obama has zeroed in on Americans' fatigue with Congress in recent years, but he asserts that America is not divided between Republicans and Democrats, but rather by old political rivalries. He says he's the candidate who can unite the U.S. government. "It's time for a new generation of leadership, because old politics just won't do," he told a crowd at the University of Denver on Jan. 30, 2008 [source: ABC News].

This message attracted support in many quarters among American political groups, the public and the media. Obama ranks extremely high among liberal groups, extremely low among conservative groups. He is favored by labor and considered unfriendly by business. Health care, economic revival and an end to the war in Iraq are among his stated highest concerns. He is for nuclear disarmament, diplomacy with Iran and falls on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate.

So how did Obama get to this stage of his political career? Read on to find out about his life before presidential politics.

Barack Obama Biography

Barack Obama, shortly after he was elected the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review in 1990.
Barack Obama, shortly after he was elected the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review in 1990.
Steve Liss/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Barack Hussein Obama Jr. was born Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu. His parents, Ann Dunham, a white Kansas native and daughter of a World War II veteran, and his father, a black Kenyan and son of a goat herder, met while enrolled at the University of Hawaii. The senior Obama divorced his wife and left Hawaii for Harvard. He eventually moved back to Kenya, where he worked as an economist and oil consultant [source: Chicago Sun-Times].

His mother remarried and moved young Barack to her second husband's home in Indonesia. Here, he studied for two years at a local public school. Obama's attendance at the Muslim-run public school in Indonesia later became the foundation for rumors that he is a Muslim and that the school he attended was a madrassa, a school that teaches Islam. (This doesn't appear to be the case; CNN sent reporters to the school early in 2008 and reported that the school was not a madrassa [source: New York Times].)

Obama returned to Hawaii and was raised by his grandparents until his mother returned to the United States following her divorce from Obama's stepfather. Obama attended Occidental College, a liberal arts college in Los Angeles, before transferring to Columbia University in New York. He graduated from Columbia in 1983 with a B.A. in political science [source: The Des Moines Register].

Following his graduation from Columbia, he moved to Chicago in 1985. There, he became involved with church-based nonprofit groups that work to provide housing and support to poor families in the city [source: 60 Minutes]. He went on to Harvard Law School, where he received his Juris Doctorate in 1991 [source: Religion and Politics]. At Harvard, Obama became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, overseeing a monthly, student-run journal that publishes about 2,000 pages per issue [source: Harvard Law Review].

Obama married his wife, Michelle Robinson -- an earlier graduate of Harvard Law -- in 1992. The two met at a Chicago law firm where they both worked. Four years later, Obama wrote his 1996 autobiography "Dreams from My Father." In it, he revealed that during his teenage and college years he experimented with marijuana and cocaine [source: Washington Post]. When Steve Kroft from "60 Minutes" asked if he regretted making these admissions, Obama told him, "No. You know, I don't" [source: CBS News]. He began an earnest attempt to quit smoking cigarettes in 2007, after pledging to his wife that he would switch to nicotine gum to break his habit [source: ABC News]. In 1999, his first daughter Malia was born. His second daughter, Natasha, arrived in 2001.

In addition to practicing law, Obama also serves as a senior lecturer on law at the University of Chicago Law School [source: Chicago Sun-Times]. In addition to "Dreams from My Father," Obama also published the bestseller "The Audacity of Hope" in 2006.

In 1998, the candidate joined the United Church of Christ in Chicago, after being raised outside of religion by his mother, who he's described as a "lonely witness for secular humanism" [source: Chicago Sun-Times]. During his 2008 presidential campaign, his religious views were called into question. An e-mail about Obama began to circulate, focusing attention on his Muslim background. The e-mail paints Obama as a radical Muslim and suggests that he may be a puppet of terrorists. This e-mail was categorically debunked as a false claim by the online urban legend reference site Snopes.com. The concept was lampooned on the controversial July 21, 2008, cover of the New Yorker magazine. A drawing entitled "The Politics of Fear" depicted a turban clad Barack giving pounds to his militantly-dressed and afroed wife, Michelle, in the Oval Office, while an American flag burns in the fireplace beneath a portrait of Osama bin Laden [source: New Yorker].

Read about Obama's political career on the next page.

Political Career of Barack Obama

U.S. Senator for Illinois Barack Obama speaks on behalf of Democratic Party nominee John Kerry in Chicago during the 2004 primaries.
U.S. Senator for Illinois Barack Obama speaks on behalf of Democratic Party nominee John Kerry in Chicago during the 2004 primaries.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Obama began his political career as an Illinois state senator, where he served from 1997 to 2004. He became known among Chicago political circles for using hardball political tactics. A Chicago Tribune article reported that he was able to get into the Illinois Senate by challenging the veracity of nominating petitions until his competitors could no longer legally be considered candidates and were knocked off the ballot.

There in office, he served the south side of Chicago, casting more than 4,000 votes [source: Los Angeles Times], including some on bills that required homicide interrogations be recorded, reformation of campaign finance, allocation of tax credits for the poor and elimination of racial profiling [source: New York Times].

He also spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a claim that was called into question during the 2008 presidential nomination race. Obama's claim was backed up, however, by the publication on his official candidate's site of his speech at an anti-war rally in October 2002. Rather than fighting Iraq, Obama said, "Let's finish the fight with Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings."

As a senator in the Illinois legislature, Obama had a third option beyond "Yes" or "No" -- "Present." This option allows a legislator to remain neutral on an issue at vote, side-stepping a stance. Obama was criticized by his campaign rival Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign for the 129 "Present" votes he made from 1997 to 2004 [source: NPR]. In 1999, he voted present on a bill that allowed juvenile offenders who committed certain crimes to be tried as adults. The results of this vote and others, including votes on abortion, allowed Clinton's campaign "to portray Mr. Obama as a 'talker' rather than a 'doer'" [source: The New York Times].

Obama made the jump from the state senate to U.S. Senator for Illinois when he was elected to Congress in 2004. Since then he has served on several Senate committees: Foreign Relations; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Homeland Security and Government Affairs; Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations; Veterans' Affairs; Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security; and Subcommittee on State, Local and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration [source: Project Vote Smart].

Obama has introduced several bills in the Senate. He sponsored the Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act in 2006 (S. 2261), which aimed to require that earmarks (also called "pork") attached to bills be more explicitly detailed. Obama also co-sponsored a bill to increase the child tax credit for low-income and working families (S. 218) in 2007. He introduced the Global Poverty Act of 2007 (S. 2433), which would require the President to create a strategy to fight global poverty. He introduced a total of 133 bills between Jan. 4, 2005, and Aug. 2008; 119 didn't make it out of committee review, earning him an "Average" rating by comparison to other senators [source: GovTrack].

In the Senate in 2007, Obama voted along Democratic Party lines 97 percent of the time, about 10 percent more than the average for all Democratic senators [source: The Hill]. Of the leading Democrat candidates, he's missed the most votes during the 109th Congress. Obama missed 282 of the 630 total votes from Dec. 8, 2007, to July 28, 2008, or 44.8 percent. Obama ranks third in votes missed behind fellow presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Tim Johnson (D-ND) who suffered a brain hemorrhage and missed the 2007 Senate session [source: Washington Post].

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Voting Scorecards of Barack Obama

Barack Obama tours his ancestral homeland Kenya, with his grandmother, Sarah Obama, in August 2006.
Barack Obama tours his ancestral homeland Kenya, with his grandmother, Sarah Obama, in August 2006.
Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

Special interest groups rate Obama's and other candidates' voting records on key votes of concern to their organizations. Obama generally scores high among groups promoting civil liberties, the environment and pro-choice issues. He generally scores low among pro-business, Conservative groups and tax reform organizations.

The League of Conservation Voters awarded Obama a grade of 100 percent on seven votes it considers key to environmental policy (such as public health, energy and funding) in its 2006 National Environmental Scorecard. He received an 80 percent grade for his votes in the 110th Congress. He received an "A" grade from the Genocide Intervention Network on his 2007 voting record related to seven key votes on issues relating to the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. He received a "C," an "A+," and an "88 percent" for votes considered "supportive of the middle class" for his voting record in 2005, 2007 and 2008, respectively from the progressive think tank Drum Major Institute's TheMiddleClass.org.

Labor unions tend to favor Obama's record more than business organizations do. The National Federation of Independent Businesses gave Obama a 12 percent grade for his voting in the 109th Congress on issues like minimum wage, employee health insurance and the Death Tax. He received a grade of 100 percent from the AFL-CIO labor federation [source: San Jose Business Journal]. His voting record in 2006 regarding votes considered key by the United States Chamber of Commerce -- including port security, immigration and the Death Tax -- received a 55 percent grade by that organization. He received a score of 94 percent for his voting record in the 109th Congress on issues like funding for avian flu vaccine, immigration reform and voting rights from the health care-related Service Employees International Union; for the 110th Congress, Obama received a score of 74 percent after missing three votes considered key by that organization -- a health care funding bill, access to jobs for Americans and a bill on children's health care.

The conservative John Birch Society gave Obama a score of 0 percent for his votes in the 110th Congress on Constitutional issues, including embryonic stem cell research, the expansion of anti-hate crime programs and troop withdrawal from Iraq. A joint scorecard compiled by the conservative family values organizations Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council gave Obama a 0 percent score for his votes on issues like embryonic stem cell research, exemption of grassroots organizations from lobbying reform and SCHIP health care insurance for unborn children [source: FRC Action].

On the other side, he received a 75 percent from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action in 2007 for issues like the minimum wage increase, immigration reform, FISA and the troop surge in Iraq. Obama received a 100 percent grade for his voting record on key issues of concern from Planned Parenthood -- sex education, health care for low-income families and comprehensive family planning. He received an 83 percent grade on civil liberty issues -- voting ID requirements, torture, and a gay marriage amendment -- from the American Civil Liberties Union for his record in the 109th Congress.

Read about how Obama voted on some key issues on the next page.

Voting Record of Barack Obama: National Security and the Economy

Sen. Obama delivers the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Sen. Obama delivers the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Beyond rhetoric, spin and messages, perhaps the truest means of establishing what a candidate values is his or her voting record. Here are some select important issues that came up for a vote during Obama's term in Congress.

The Iraq War and National Security:

  • In 2007, Obama voted in favor of restoring habeas corpus to detainees in American custody (S. Amendment 2022) [source: Project Vote Smart].
  • He voted against a successful bill in 2007 which funded the Iraq War without including a timetable for withdrawal (H.R. 2206) [source: The Washington Post].
  • In 2007, he voted against another successful bill which gave $120 billion in funding for the Iraq War (vote 181), but voted for two different votes on a separate failed bill (HR 1591), which appropriated similar amounts for the Iraq War but included timetables for American troop withdrawals [source: The Washington Post].
  • He voted in favor of HR 4939 in 2006, which granted $67 billion in emergency funding to the Department of Defense [source: Obama Senate].
  • Obama voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006, (S. 3930) which granted legal immunity for CIA officials involved in acts of torture, outlawed certain acts of torture by U.S. agents, and barred detainees labeled enemy combatants from protesting their incarceration. He voted in favor of an amended version of this bill (S. Amdt. 5095), which included Congressional oversight of some CIA programs [source: ­U.S. Senate].
  • He voted in favor of providing $965 million in additional funding to increase port security in 2006 (S. Amdt. 3054) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2005, Obama voted against a House resolution to reallocate $36 million to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (HR 1268 # 93) [source: TPM Election Central].
  • Obama broke with the Democratic Party line when he voted in favor of H.R. 6304, a bill that supports the extension of the scope of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and provides retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies that provided their customers' information to the U.S. government [source: U.S. Senate].

Economy/Government Finance:

  • In 2007, Obama voted no (S. Amdt. 491) on an $18 billion decrease in funding for programs deemed ineffective -- including Border Patrol, rural education and Coast Guard search and rescue. He also voted against $40 billion in reduced spending over five years on programs including agriculture student loans and other programs, but allotted funds towards hurricane recovery [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against an amendment in 2005 (S. Amdt. 31) that would have capped the amount of interest allowed to be charged on credit at 30 percent [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against the successful passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005 [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2005, Obama voted yes on a bill (S. 5), which affected class action lawsuits filed in separate states, bringing them together into the jurisdiction of the federal government [source: The Washington Post].
  • Voted in favor of increasing the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in 2007 (H.R. 1591) [source: The Washington Post].

On the next page, we'll see how Barack Obama voted on immigration and health care issues during his senatorial career.

Voting Record of Barack Obama: Immigration and Health Care

Barack Obama holds a press conference in a Chicago restaurant in 2004. At the meeting, he unveiled a plan to help small business owners provide health insurance for their employees.
Barack Obama holds a press conference in a Chicago restaurant in 2004. At the meeting, he unveiled a plan to help small business owners provide health insurance for their employees.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Immigration:

  • In 2007, Obama voted yes on a bill that restricts commercial trucks from Mexico to commercial-only zones in the border area (S. Amendment 2797) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted in favor of a failed bill for comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 (S. 1639), which would have introduced guest-worker-visa and path-to-citizenship programs for illegal immigrants already residing in the country, as well as increased border security [source: U.S. Senate].
  • Obama also voted for the Secure Fence Act in 2006 (H.R. 6061), which approved $1.2 billion for a 700-mile-long (1,127-km) fence along the U.S./Mexico border [source: The Washington Post].
  • He voted in favor of S. Amdt. 1183, a failed bill that sought to reclassify spouses and minor children of legal immigrants as immediate relatives, giving them legal status in the U.S. -- so-called "chain migration" [source: U.S. Senate].

Health Care:

  • In 2007, Obama voted for an unsuccessful bill that would have expanded funding for the State Children's Healthcare Insurance Program (SCHIP) by increasing the tobacco tax (S. Amdt. 536 ) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against another unsuccessful bill in 2007, which eliminated federal payments matching state funds for non-pregnant adults via SCHIP, but allowed states to expand mental and dental coverage of children in SCHIP (S. Con. Res. 21) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2006, he voted in favor of an amendment to provide compensation for people who had been harmed by flu vaccines [source: Obama Senate].
  • Obama voted in favor of establishing a fund for reserving avian flu vaccine in 2006 (S. Amdt. 3114) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2007, he voted in favor of S. Amdt. 990, which allows seniors to purchase and import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and other countries [source: U.S. Senate].

On the next page, we'll look at Barack Obama's voting record with regard to ethics and morality questions, as well as veterans' issues.

Voting Record of Barack Obama: Ethics, Morality and Veterans

Obama speaks at a hearing in Washington on the 2006 budget for Veterans Affairs in February 2005.
Obama speaks at a hearing in Washington on the 2006 budget for Veterans Affairs in February 2005.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ethics and Morality Issues:

  • Obama voted for a successful bill in 2006 that allowed for federal funding of research using embryonic stem cells [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted to create the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, which included crimes against individuals based on their sexual orientation [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2006, he voted against a Constitutional amendment that would have given Congress the power to outlaw flag burning (SJ Res 12) [source: The Washington Post].
  • In 2006, he voted against the proposal to amend the Constitution to include the definition of marriage as that of a "union of a man and a woman" (SJ Res 1) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • Obama voted for an unsuccessful amendment in 2005 to expand funding for family planning and access to birth control (S Con Res 18) [source: Project Vote Smart].
  • In 2008, Obama missed a close vote on HR 2082, a successful bill that bans Americans from using waterboarding and other interrogation techniques not allowed in the Army Field Manual [source: U.S. Senate]. The bill was vetoed by President George W. Bush the following month [source: AP].

Veterans:

  • Obama didn't vote for the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act of 2008 (H.R. 2642), a bill that passed without his vote. It provided funding for military construction and the VA budget [source: U.S. Senate].
  • Obama voted for a failed amendment (S. Amendment 3141 -- 2006) to assure a steady stream of funding for future veterans' health care services by rolling back tax breaks [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against a rejected amendment in 2006 (S. Amdt. 3704), which provided $20 million for the medical facilities for the Veterans Administration [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2005, he voted in favor of a motion to waive an amendment to provide an additional $500 million per year from 2006 to 2010 to be used for mental health services for veterans [source: U.S. Senate].

On the next page, we'll look at Sen. Obama's record on environmental and judiciary issues.

Voting Record of Barack Obama: Environment and Legal

Barack Obama addresses the League of Conservation Voters Environmental Victory Rally in Boston in 2004.
Barack Obama addresses the League of Conservation Voters Environmental Victory Rally in Boston in 2004.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Environment:

  • Obama voted in favor of the Energy Efficiency Act of 2007 (H.R. 6) [s­ource: U.S. Senate]. It passed the Senate vote. (Obama voted for another version of H.R. 6, the successful Energy Policy Act of 2005, which offered incentives for companies that lowered dependency on oil, improved conservation and reduced pollution [source: The Washington Post]).
  • He did not vote on the failed amendment in 2007, which would have limited the tax credit for properties providing wind power (S. Amendment 3500) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2007, he voted against maintaining current budget levels for tax credits for electricity produced by renewable resources through 2012 (S. Amdt. 577) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted in favor of the failed amendment in 2005 (S. Amdt. 902) that sought to improve automotive fuel efficiency [source: U.S. Senate].

Legal/Judiciary/Governance:

  • He voted for a bill in 2007 (S. 1) that provides more transparency in the legislative process, as well as for amendments to that bill that prohibit "lavish parties" for members of Congress thrown by lobbyists and increase restrictions on gifts and travel provided to Congress by lobbyists [source: Obama Senate].
  • Obama sponsored three bills related to government ethics reform in 2006: Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission Act (S. 2259), the Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act (S. 2261) and the CLEAN UP Act (S. 2179) [source: Obama Senate].
  • In 2006, Obama voted against an amendment to increase transparency in government lobbying (S. 2349) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • Obama voted against the confirmations of conservative Supreme Court Justices John Roberts in 2005 and Samuel Alito in 2006 [source: The Washington Post].
  • He voted with Republicans for a pro-business bill in 2005, which brings class action lawsuits filed in more than one state into the purview of the federal courts [source: The Washington Post].

Throughout the 2008 primary campaign, Obama -- like his rival candidates -- has revealed his presidential platform. Read about what Obama says he would do as president on the next page.

Presidential Agenda of Barack Obama

Obama signs copies of his second book, "The Audacity of Hope" -- which includes his positions and plans on issues facing the U.S. -- in New Hampshire in 2006.
Obama signs copies of his second book, "The Audacity of Hope" -- which includes his positions and plans on issues facing the U.S. -- in New Hampshire in 2006.
Jodi Hilton/Getty Images

Obama says he intends to "make government cool again" [source: Idaho Statesman]. Like some other candidates, including Republican challenger Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Bill Clinton in 1992, he's made his case for being cool on late-night talk shows. Obama's turn came when he delivered the Top Ten list on "Late Night with David Letterman" on Jan. 24, 2008. Obama offered his facetious "Top Ten Campaign Promises" to Late Night viewers -- No. 9: "I will double your tax money at the craps table" [source: CBS].

Most likely this is not Obama's actual plan to revive the United States economy. His official site states that his plan for economic reform will come in the form of tax relief, support for education and technological innovation, and tax breaks for small businesses.

In addition, Obama's economic platform includes rolling back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Middle- and lower-class citizens would get extra tax credits for mortgages, higher education and dependents. Seniors in these classes making less than $50,000 per year could also look forward to a complete elimination of their income taxes. He also plans to issue more tax rebate checks like the ones sent out to American taxpayers by the Bush administration in 2008 [source: Barack Obama.com].

Obama expects to foster business and employment by promoting American businesses overseas and trade agreements that lower prices without cutting American companies out of competition, as well as a reduction in the self-employment tax for small business owners, among other ideas.

Like many other Democratic candidates, Obama has focused on health care as a major pillar for his platform. The New York Times reports that he plans on requiring all children to have health care insurance by repealing tax breaks for American households with incomes more than $250,000. He also plans on introducing legislation that makes employers pay all or some health care costs for workers.

The economy replaced American involvement in the Middle East as the major topic of concern, although war remained a major issue. As president, Obama would recall troops from Iraq shortly after taking office, yet, he says "I will finish the fight against Al Qaeda" [source: Barack Obama.com]. He's stated he would begin drawing down troops immediately once elected [source: The Washington Post]. He also supports a surge in troops in Afghanistan, where the Taliban made a resurgence during the 2008 campaign [source: McClatchy].

Obama agrees with Roe v. Wade, telling voters in New Hampton, Iowa, on Oct. 6, 2007, "A lot of people have arrived in the view that I've arrived at, which is there is a moral implication to these issues but that the women involved are in the best position to make that determination" [source: Courier-Post]. He also believes the decision whether to use the death penalty should be left up to the states.

As for environmental issues, Obama's in favor of ratifying an international agreement over environmental regulations. He's also come out against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in favor of federal mandates requiring increases in fuel efficiency. He voted for the Fuel Economy Reform Act of 2006. "Certainly, when you look at our energy policy and environment and the prospects of climate change, we've gotta make some decisions right now," he said in a CBS interview in February 2007. One decision Obama's in favor of is establishing a national cap and trade carbon exchange to reduce emissions and to increase fuel economy standards by 4 percent per year [source: The Washington Post].

Early in the race for the Democratic nomination, questions of whether America is ready for a black president began to arise, but Obama believes he can unite people of all races and creeds. "Unity is the great need of the hour," Obama quoted Dr. Martin Luther King during a service in honor of King in Atlanta on Jan. 20, 2008 [source: Barack Obama.com]. Obama aims to unite Republicans and Democrats and has become fond of evoking the name of popular Republican president Ronald Reagan.

While the issue of race was generally kept remarkably far from discussion during the primaries, Obama made civil rights issues a major part of his platform. The candidate says as president, he'll end employment compensation disparities among minorities by passing the Fair Pay Act. He has also stated he will make more use of drug courts for nonviolent offenders, expand hate crime laws and reduce sentencing disparities among minorities [source: Barack Obama.com].

With regard to foreign relations, Obama says he would seek talks with Iran and Syria [source: NPR]. His official site includes a foreign policy plan that targets a two-state accord between Israel and Palestine as a "key diplomatic priority." If elected, the candidate also plans to reach out to Asia, work toward "a nuclear free world," expand the military and insulate the CIA from politics [source: Barack Obama.com].

In modern American politics, it takes vast sums of money to run a successful campaign for president. Read about how Barack Obama raises money on the next page.

Fundraising of Barack Obama

Obama at a rally in New Hampshire during the 2008 primary season.
Obama at a rally in New Hampshire during the 2008 primary season.
Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Celebrity and elite benefits the candidate's campaign finances at the beginning of the primary race, as well as after the candidate clinched the nomination. On Feb. 20, 2007, a fundraiser was hosted in Los Angeles for Obama by DreamWorks Studio heads Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Tickets were $2,300 per person, and the evening netted the campaign an estimated $1.3 million [source: AP]. Another Hollywood-based fundraiser, held in September 2007 by Oprah Winfrey also sold tickets for $2,300 per person (this is the maximum amount an individual can contribute to a campaign by law). This fundraiser raised around $3 million for the Obama presidential campaign [source: AFP].

It turned out that most of Obama's coffers were ultimately filled by everyday donors. A Cincinnati fundraiser, hosted by Ohio state senator Eric Kearney on Feb. 26, 2007, attracted 1,000 supporters and generated between $350,000 and $500,000. The host was quoted as saying he was impressed by "how diverse a crowd it was -- whites, blacks, Latinos, Asian folks, rich and poor" [source: Cincinnati Enquirer].

In October 2007, his campaign announced that it had attracted 93,000 new donors contributing $19 million in the third quarter of that year. The total fundraising for the campaign reached $74.9 million for the primaries alone, with contributions from 352,000 donors [source: Barack Obama.com]. By the end of the year, the total donations from October to Dec. 31 came to an additional $23.5 million. From Jan. 1 to Jan. 8, 2008, Obama's campaign raised $8 million [source: The Washington Post]. Throughout the month of January 2008, Obama's campaign raised $32 million, the most raised by any candidate in the 2008 primary race to that point. The following month, Obama broke Sen. John Kerry's 2004 single-month fundraising record in February 2008 after generating $55 million in donations, $20 million more than his Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton drew for the same month [source: Los Angeles Times].

"We continue to build a grassroots movement that makes us best-positioned to compete financially in the primaries and caucuses coming up," wrote campaign manager David Plouffe. Much of this is generated through online contributions. From midnight of Jan. 9 to the following morning, the Obama campaign received $500,000 online alone [source: The Washington Post]. From the beginning of his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in January 2007 to April 2008, Obama raised $266 million [source: CNN].

Obama also has the support of industry, although some sectors more than others. He ranks at or near the top of contributions received from the pharmaceutical, entertainment, banking, computer, health care, investment and Internet industries. Obama also does well with donors from retirement associations, securities and investments outfits, education organizations and law firms. He ranks near the bottom of contributions received from lobbying organizations, oil companies and the tobacco industry [source: Open Secrets.org].

Obama's campaign took a PR hit when one of his supporters, Chicago-area developer Tony Rezko, was arrested on Jan. 28, 2008, on federal charges of conspiracy, influence peddling and demanding kickbacks. The candidate told reporters that he planned on ridding his campaign of $80,000 contributed by Rezko [source: CNN]. Obama had worked for nonprofit groups that had ties with Rezko's development company and worked five to seven hours directly for Rezko's firm [source: Chicago Tribune]; the developer had contributed and helped raise about $120,000 for Obama's 2004 Senate campaign [source: ABC News]; and Obama as senator wrote two letters supporting a Rezko venture [source: CNN]. The senator reportedly gave away or returned $44,000 of contributions from Rezko and promised another $40,350 would be donated to charities [source: Chicago Tribune].

The Rezko scandal didn't go away so easily. A deal involving a house that Obama and his family purchased in Chicago in 2005 has come into question. The seller is reported to have wanted to sell two adjacent properties at once. The Obamas purchased one as their home for approximately $300,000 below the asking price. Rezko's wife, Rita, purchased the other house at the asking price. Later, the Rezkos sold a strip of land belonging to the second property to the Obamas. There is no mention of Obama in any of the federal charges filed against Rezko [source: The New York Times].

Obama's and rival campaigns got creative during the 2008 primary race by extending their reach across the Atlantic and mining a previously neglected source of campaign contributions: expatriates -- Americans living abroad. Obama's wife, Michelle, hosted a fundraiser in London in October 2007. Unsolicited contributions from expatriates also came in. By Sept.18, 2007, Obama's campaign had raised $222,000 from Americans living overseas, compared to $26,430 for rival Edwards and $10,950 for Clinton [source: The Washington Post].

In June 2008, Obama drew criticism from the McCain campaign after he announced he would opt out of public financing for his presidential bid. Obama said in February 2008 that he would consider taking public financing for his campaign, which would both guarantee and limit his finances to about $85 million. Sen. Hillary Clinton withdrew from the Democratic candidacy and threw her support behind Obama, leaving his campaign to face the prospect of raising $200 million for the general election. Obama turned to wealthy supporters again as well as former Clinton donors [source: The New York Times].

With Clinton officially suspending her campaign and throwing her weight behind him, Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee. Read about presidential candidate Obama on the next page.

Barack Obama and the Presidential Nomination

Foes no more: After Obama clinched the Democratic nomination in June 2008, Clinton withdrew from the race and gave her support to him. Here they're shown at a Women for Obama fundraiser in July 2008.
Foes no more: After Obama clinched the Democratic nomination in June 2008, Clinton withdrew from the race and gave her support to him. Here they're shown at a Women for Obama fundraiser in July 2008.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, June 3, 2008, Sen. Barack Obama became the first black American to claim the presidential nomination for any party. Despite a strong showing by Clinton toward the end of the primaries, Obama won the requisite 2,118 delegates (including superdelegates) needed for the nomination from votes in Montana and South Dakota -- the last two states to hold primaries [source: MSNBC].

On June 7, 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton withdrew herself from the candidacy for the 2008 Democratic nomination for the presidency. While she threw her support behind her former rival, some Clinton supporters had already decided they wouldn't support Obama. A CBS News poll found that 22 percent of Clinton supporters said they planned to vote for McCain after Clinton's withdrawal from the race [source: CBS News].

Although yet to be officially bestowed with the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in August, Obama became the presumptive presidential candidate. His rival became presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain. Shots were fired from both campaigns across the other's bow. The Obama campaign criticized McCain as an extension of the Bush/Cheney administration [source: Los Angeles Times]. McCain's camp found criticism in a series of gaffes associated with the Obama campaign.

The bad publicity began with Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. While Obama's religious beliefs were questioned throughout his candidacy -- including whether he is Muslim -- his former pastor brought real controversy to the campaign. Video of an arguably anti-American speech made by Wright decrying mistreatment of blacks at the hands of the white establishment was picked up by news sources. "The government gives them the drugs," Wright told a crowd during a sermon, "builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America…" [source: ABC News]. Obama responded with a 40-minute speech discussing the "racial stalemate" and "chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races" in America [source: The Telegraph]. The speech caused observers to draw parallels between Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr. [source: NY Daily News].

Race emerged at least twice more during Obama's campaign. In July 2008, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson was caught on a live microphone during a commercial break on Fox & Friends, a news program on which Jackson was a guest. "I want to cut his nuts off," said Jackson of Obama, for "speaking down to black people" [source: MSNBC]. And the McCain camp accused Obama of playing the "race card" after he warned voters that the Republicans would try to lure them away using scare tactics: "You know. He doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He's risky." Rick Davis, Sen. McCain's campaign manager, called the speech "divisive, negative, shameful and wrong" [source: The Washington Post].

Despite these setbacks, Obama remained competitive in polls with McCain. A June 6 CNN poll found Obama leading McCain 49 to 46 percent. With an Obama-Clinton ticket versus a McCain-Mitt Romney ticket, the results rose to 52 to 46 percent [source: CNN]. Polls in early July 2008 found similar results.

Obama took a much-publicized tour of the Middle East and Europe in July 2008. While still a presumptive candidate, the senator met privately with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [source: NPR]. In Berlin, Obama gave a speech that drew parallels to President John F. Kennedy's famous 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" and President Ronald Reagan's "Tear down this wall" speeches. Kennedy and Reagan, each a sitting president at the time of their speeches in Berlin, drew crowds of nearly 100,000 and 20,000, respectively [source: Bozell]. While still a candidate, Obama gave his speech in Berlin to an estimated 200,000 [source: Rose].

Joe Biden and Barack Obama share a laugh on the campaign trail in Toledo, Ohio.
J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

On August 22, 2008, Obama announced he’d selected Delaware senator Joe Biden as his running mate. Sen. Biden had been a rival of Obama’s during the 2008 primaries, but had dropped out in the beginning of January 2008 after a poor showing in the Iowa Caucus. This was Biden’s second run for the White House, the first coming in 1988. He dropped out amid accusations of plagiarism in a speech he gave [source: MSNBC]. Obama said he selected Biden because he was “a statesman with sound judgment who doesn’t have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong” [source: NPR].

Obama selected Biden over Hillary Clinton, who many Democrats had hoped would end up as Obama’s running mate. Republicans also pointed out that Biden was a vocal critic of Obama’s lack of experience in foreign policy [source: MSNBC]. Biden served in the senate for more than 30 years, and was known for his “blue-collar roots, generally liberal voting record and a reputation as a long-winded orator” [source: AP].

With his vice president chosen, Obama turned his attention to the three presidential debates versus Sen. John McCain. Poll results showed that Sen. Obama won all three debates against his GOP rival; 51, 54 and 58 percent of respondents believing Obama came out on top in the three debates in CNN polls [source: CNN].

By mid-October, he had enough voters responding they planned on voting for him -- including in some swing states that traditionally go Republican, like Virginia -- that the estimated tally of those votes would be enough to satisfy the 270 electoral votes needed to carry him into the White House.

The gulf between polls and actual votes is a wide one, however and Democrats continued to hold their breaths until Nov. 4.

For more information on the presidential race and other related topics, visit the next page.

Obama Wins the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

President-elect Barack Obama hugs his wife Michelle during an election night rally on Nov. 4, 2008.
President-elect Barack Obama hugs his wife Michelle during an election night rally on Nov. 4, 2008.
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

The few days preceding the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 4 were exhausting for Obama. A record number of voters had taken part in early voting in the 32 states that allowed it. Despite these millions of ballots already cast, Florida, Virginia and Ohio remained key battleground states, and Obama visited each several times over the week leading up to Election Day. Outside of the race, Obama suffered the loss of his grandmother, who'd helped raise him, the day before the election.

His campaign found itself flush with cash after the record-breaking $650 million he raised during his combined primary and presidential bids ($150 of which was raised in September 2008 alone); 91 percent of those funds coming from individual donors [source: Telegraph, Open Secrets].

As a result of the unspent cash, the Obama campaign purchased half-hour blocks of programming time on three of the four major U.S. television networks. He held last-minute and late-night rallies, drawing crowds between 45,000 and 100,000 people in the West and Midwest and featuring guest appearances by celebrities like Bruce Springsteen. He also purchased advertising and held rallies in traditionally Republican states like Missouri and New Mexico, as well as in his opponent Sen. John McCain's home state of Arizona.

His 20-month campaign for the White House over, Obama returned to Chicago to cast his ballot and spend election night with his family and more than 125,000 supporters at an Election Night rally in his honor in Chicago's Grant Park.

The first election results in the nation predicted the outcome for the rest of the country. The 21 voters in Dixville Notch, N.H. -- which allows ballots cast at midnight on Nov. 4 -- went to Obama, 15 to 6. As the day wore on and polls began to close, the results for the rest of the United States came in.

The popular vote for the nation was divided, with Obama capturing an estimated 62.2 million votes, 52 percent of the vote [source: CNN]. But the electoral vote count showed that Obama won in a landslide. Ultimately, Obama won an estimated 338 electoral votes, 68 more than the 270 required to become president. In addition to maintaining all states that had voted Democrat in 2004, the candidate managed to flip at least seven 2004 red states to newly blue ones, including the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia -- a state that hadn't voted Democrat since 1964 [source: CNN, Fox News].

On Nov. 4, 2008, after serving just four years as an elected official in the federal government, Sen. Barack Obama became the first black president-elect in the history of the United States. "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible," Obama said during his victory speech, "…tonight is your answer" [source: USA Today].

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