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Obama Heads for Historic Nomination

Democratic party presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama received the number of delegates needed to win his party's nomination for president. Obama's nomination would be the first for an African American and would cap a bitterly-fought campaign in which he faced questions about his qualifications and his personal beliefs. VOA's Robert Raffaele has more.

Barack Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961, the son of a Kenyan father and an American mother from Kansas. He spent part of his childhood in Indonesia and later attended Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

His sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, says Obama's life experience makes his candidacy a "great opportunity" for America.," she said. "To have someone who is fair, who has a strong respect for the Constitution, who has a strong respect for not only the cultures within the United States, but also the world at large."

Obama's political career was shaped in part by his years as a community organizer in poor neighborhoods of Chicago and as a member of the Illinois State Senate.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, the same year he delivered the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention.

"I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on earth is my story even possible," Obama said.

That speech propelled Obama into the national spotlight.

Frank Mankiewicz was press secretary and adviser to the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He says Obama has the intellect and imagination to be an effective leader.

"He clearly has great motivations, and certainly anyone who has read his books, particularly his first book, has a clear understanding that this is a man with deep emotions and serious thoughts," Mankiewicz said. "He doesn't just pick up slogans and run with them. So, in that sense, I think he will do all right."

Obama's supporters praise him for speaking to the hopes and ideals of U.S. voters. One such moment came after he won the Democratic Party caucus in Iowa in January.

Senator Obama told his supporters, "They said, this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said, this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose. But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do."

Obama has endured criticism, including for saying he would meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without conditions.

He has also faced questions about the church he belonged to in Chicago. His former pastor there, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, made inflammatory remarks about white people and race in America. Obama denounced those remarks, then recently left the church.

Frank Mankiewicz says Obama's biggest challenge may be connecting with working class Americans.

"Obama has to worry about health insurance, and the price of gasoline, and what is happening to mortgages and foreclosures, and all of the other things that are really preoccupying Americans now," Mankiewicz said. "And, of course, the war."

Obama received some good news as the Democratic primary season came to a close.

A new Gallup/USA Today voter opinion survey shows if the election were held today Obama would beat Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, by 47 to 44 percent.