- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Sen. Barack Obama officially announced his presidential candidacy yesterday before thousands of supporters eager to become part of his “new leadership” movement.

“This campaign can’t only be about me. It must be about us — it must be about what we can do together,” Mr. Obama said, standing in front of the building where Abraham Lincoln served in the state General Assembly before he became president.

“I know it’s a little chilly, but I’m fired up,” the Illinois Democrat said as he took the podium with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia, 8, and Sasha, 5.

Like former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who sought the Democratic nomination in 2004, Mr. Obama envisions a campaign to be built from the ground up using the Internet — a grass-roots coalition that will be controlled by voters.

“This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams,” Mr. Obama said. “It will take your time, your energy and your advice to push us forward when we’re doing right, and to let us know when we’re not.”

In a speech that invoked the memories of both Lincoln and Martin Luther King, the junior senator from Illinois acknowledged a “certain audacity” in his selection of the historic backdrop for his announcement and said he recognizes that his campaign is as much about the voters as it is about himself.

“In my heart, I know you didn’t come here just for me,” Mr. Obama said, as some in the audience shouted: “Yes, we did!” Unfazed, the senator said, “You came here because you believe in what this country can be.”

Mr. Obama played on the similarities between himself and Lincoln, whose work he said was the reason that Americans of every race can stand together to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Like Lincoln, Mr. Obama is viewed as a novice to national politics, having spent eight years in the Illinois state Senate and just two years in the U.S. Senate before running for president. Mr. Obama lost his first bid for Congress in 2000; Lincoln lost a Senate bid in 1858, two years before being elected president.

Mr. Obama laid out a broad vision for the country, in which he and voters will “together” tackle the tough issues of providing health care for all Americans, improving education and creating jobs that provide a living wage.

He also spoke of empowering unions, putting an end to the nation’s addiction to foreign oil and maintaining a strong military to fight terrorism.

At 45, Mr. Obama is the youngest candidate among a Democratic field that is dominated by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, and he tried to use his youth to distance himself from the others in the race.

“Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done,” Mr. Obama said. “Today, we are called once more — and it is time for our generation to answer that call.”

He also made clear his opposition to the Iraq war and highlighted his plan to begin bringing troops home by March 2008.

“Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace,” Mr. Obama said.

David Axelrod, the campaign’s media adviser, said there was no attempt to tear down or disparage other Democrats in the campaign.

“We don’t have a strategy to tear people down,” he said. “Our premise is, if you can give people something to aspire to, then you don’t have to do that, and if it works, we will have changed politics in America.”

With his announcement, Mr. Obama’s campaign shifted into high gear. A once-barren exploratory committee Web site was teeming with content, including speeches dating back as far as 2002 and highlighting Mr. Obama’s opposition to the war in Iraq.

Many in the audience yesterday had traveled from as far away as California and Arizona for Mr. Obama’s announcement, while others drove from nearby Peoria and Decatur.

“This is really amazing. He’s amazing,” said Paul Jeffords, 37, a sales representative from Peoria. “He is the most dynamic, the most humble. I just feel like he’s the one who can bring all of us together.”

After his announcement yesterday, Mr. Obama traveled to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he addressed voters in a packed high school gym. The senator will travel to New Hampshire tomorrow before returning to Washington.

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