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Democratic National Convention
Party's new 'rock star' to give keynote
By ADAM C. SMITH
Published July 27, 2004
BOSTON - Bill Clinton has the sizzle, and Ted Kennedy has the aura. But much of the buzz in Boston this week centers on an until-recently obscure state legislator.
"I'm really excited to hear Barack Obama," said Richard Port, a Democratic National Committee member from Hawaii. "He'll get a great reception."
Obama will deliver the keynote address tonight at the Democratic National Convention. It's a high profile responsibility that previously has been bestowed on such party luminaries as Clinton and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.
"What's unusual is that he's not a senator yet," said Illinois Rep. Rahm Emmanuel. "It's a great national recognition for him."
Obama, a 42-year-old state senator and likely next U.S. senator from Illinois, has become a political phenomenon and celebrity since winning his primary in March. He would be only the third African-American senator since Reconstruction.
"People are going to want to know how this skinny guy with a funny name got up on this stage," Obama quipped Monday.
Even before his Republican rival Jack Ryan dropped out of the race, Obama was heavily favored to win.
Obama showed in his primary an ability to win strong support from white and black voters alike, and Kerry called him an "optimistic voice for America" in tapping Obama to give the keynote speech.
"It was a very smart choice," Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, said Monday before the convention kicked off. "You're going to see Clinton, you're going to see Al Gore and Ted Kennedy. I think they wanted to show that this is a new, younger, different Democratic Party."
The man CBS's Bob Schieffer dubbed "a rock star" for the party also boasts a compelling personal story. His father was a member of Kenya's Luo tribe. He met Obama's white mother while both were students at the University of Hawaii. When Obama was 2, his father left the family to return to Kenya, where he eventually became a senior economist in the Ministry of Finance.
Obama was raised by his late mother and grandparents. He graduated from Columbia University in New York and received his law degree from Harvard Law School. He became the first black president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review and later worked as a civil rights lawyer and as a community organizer in New York and Chicago. Obama teaches law at the University of Chicago and has served in the state Senate since 1997.
"I think he's the light we need to get this party restarted," said Minerva Faire, a delegate from Jacksonville.
Obama, while downplaying talk of him as the new face of his party, said he'll tell his audience tonight that the Democrats have always been the party to promote opportunity and that John Kerry reflects the "common sense" values needed to move the country forward.
"It's a huge honor," he said. "My wife just keeps telling me, "Don't screw it up.' "