U.S. Senator Barack Obama officially entered the 2008 presidential race Saturday, saying he wants to work to build a more hopeful America. The Illinois senator, who hopes to become the United States' first African-American president, made his announcement in Springfield, Illinois, where he began his elective career 10 years ago. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The senator announced his candidacy in front of the building where, in the 19th century, Abraham Lincoln also served as a state legislator before becoming one of the most important presidents in American history, seeing the country through civil war and the abolition of slavery.

"And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a house divided to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America," he said.

Hundreds of supporters braved freezing cold temperatures to show their support for Obama, 45, who is one of the youngest candidates. Some political observers question whether he has enough political experience on the national stage to be president. He served eight years in the Illinois state legislature, but has been a U.S. senator for only two years.

"I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness in this, a certain audacity to this announcement," he added.  "I know, I have not spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change."

The war in Iraq is certain to be one of the most important issues in the 2008 presidential race. Obama was not yet in the Senate when Congress voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war, but he gave a speech opposing the invasion in 2002, and says it is time to end U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"Most of you know I opposed this war from the start," he explained.  "I thought it was a tragic mistake. America it is time to start bringing our troops home. It is time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war. That is why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008."

Obama is the son of a black man from Kenya and a white American woman from the Midwest state of Kansas. He was born in Hawaii, and went on to earn a law degree at Harvard.

Obama will face tough competition for the Democratic Party nomination.  New York Senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton is currently leading the pack of Democratic Party hopefuls. Former Democratic Party vice presidential nominee John Edwards is just behind her in the polls, with Senator Obama in third place.