On February 10th Senator Barack Obama will make it official: he is running for President of the United States. His supporters believe he is the best candidate to appeal to an increasingly multicultural nation. VOA's Jim Bertel has more on a candidate who could become the first African-American president of the United States.
In January, Barack Obama announced he was setting up a presidential exploratory committee, the first step in running for president. "I'm going to talk to with people around the country, listening and learning more about the challenges we face as a nation, the opportunities that lie before us and the role a presidential campaign might play in bringing our country together."
After testing the political waters, Obama is now ready to make it official -- the Illinois' senator will announce on Saturday that he is a candidate for president of the United States. His message, charisma, and personal story have found an audience. And polls show he is one of the leading contenders to become the opposition Democratic Party's candidate in the 2008 presidential race.
Obama was born in the Pacific state of Hawaii to a white American mother and a Kenyan-born father. After that marriage failed, Obama, who went by Barry as a youngster, moved with his mother and stepfather to Indonesia.
Akmad Solikhin is the Deputy Principal of the school the future senator attended. He recalls, "Barry studied here from the third grade to the fifth grade, and then he moved back to the U.S."
Saman, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name, worked for Obama's stepfather transporting the boy to and from school. "He was a very smart boy as he was doubly schooled. He went to school at Besuki Elementary and also got correspondence (courses) from the U.S."
Obama moved back to Hawaii at the age of ten and credits his childhood experiences for his multicultural perspective on the nation and his current worldview.
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama is currently the only African-American senator. At 45, he has had a meteoric rise to national prominence. He was a relative unknown when he won rave reviews for his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention where he spoke about his African heritage.
"They [his parents] would give me an African name -- Barack, or 'blessing' -- believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success."
Many analysts believe Obama's strong showing in the polls reflects both a shifting of the political landscape and a changing of the guard for black political leaders in the U.S.
Until recently, many black politicians began their careers fighting racial injustice in the civil rights movement. But today, many, like Obama, have Ivy League university degrees and have worked as lawyers and legislators.
Despite his African heritage, polls show that one of his biggest challenges could be attracting black voters. A recent ABC / Washington Post poll finds him trailing one of his Democratic Party rivals, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in support from African-American voters.
Lobbyist Anton Gunn believes, over time, black voters will be very supportive of Obama. "The fact that he is starting his bid for the White House from a more center place then say, a Jesse Jackson or a Shirley Chissom, or Carol Mosley Braun started. He is moving from the center to run a campaign rather than coming from a sector of the population, just African-Americans, and then trying to move to the middle. So I think it is going to help him tremendously."
Congressman Charles Rangel agrees. "There is a sense of racial pride in having an African-American candidate -- in the same way that, I assume, the Irish were overwhelmed when [former President] Jack Kennedy was a candidate."
In the past, black candidates running for president have used the national spotlight to make a statement, but were never considered serious contenders. In Barack Obama, political analysts say not only is he a contender, but he could very well be elected the next president of the United States.