Mon, Feb 12, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Obama starts on long campaign trail for the presidency

AFP , WATERLOO, IOWA

US Senator Barack Obama yesterday was to take to the campaign trail, a day after launching his 2008 White House bid with a vow to lead a generational drive to purge the cynicism from US politics.

The charismatic 45-year-old senator opened his quest for the Democratic nomination in Illinois, invoking anti-slavery icon Abraham Lincoln as he set his sights on a historic goal -- to become the first black US president.

Obama demanded an end to the "tragic" war in Iraq and said he felt a call of destiny to transform his nation.

"Let's be the generation that ends poverty in America," Obama told a outdoor crowd of thousands in frigid temperatures in the midwestern city of Springfield, former president Lincoln's hometown.

Obama later moved on to the snow blown plains of Iowa, a crucial battleground for presidential hopefuls, as it hosts one of the earliest nominating contests next January for the Republican and Democratic tickets.

Vowing to transform creaking US health and education systems, and restore alliances abroad, Obama leapt into a Democratic field dominated by Senator Hillary Clinton after rocketing to the top of US politics in only two years.

"The only thing we require is the political will, the only thing we require is some leadership," a fired-up Obama told several thousand cheering supporters in the Iowa city of Waterloo in a late night rally.

Earlier, in Springfield, huge American flags draped buildings as a crowd estimated by local police at more than 15,000 erupted when Obama strode to center stage, to the pounding beat of U2's City of Blinding Lights.

"Let's be the generation that finally tackles our health care crisis ... let's be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil," said Obama, who spent childhood years in Hawaii and Indonesia.

The son of a Kenyan economist and white US mother pledged to bring US troops home from Iraq and combat global warming, as he took his chance in the most open White House race in 80 years.

He reminded his crowds that unlike Clinton, he had opposed the war in Iraq from the start -- though he was not in the US Senate when the 2002 vote to authorize the invasion was taken.

"It's 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," he said.

But after only two years in Congress, the political phenom who has some giddy supporters whispering comparisons to assassinated former president John Kennedy, admitted some may view his campaign as premature.

"I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness -- a certain audacity -- to this announcement," he said.

Beneath a cloudless blue sky Obama was framed by the red-domed Illinois Capitol where Lincoln, Republican president from 1861 to 1865, warned "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

He consciously echoed the man seen by many Americans as their greatest president, saying, "divided we are bound to fail."

"The life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer [Lincoln] tells us that a different future is possible," said Obama who once referred to himself as "a skinny kid, with a funny name."

"I want to win, but I don't just want to win, I want to transform this country," Obama later told several thousand Democratic voters at a town-hall meeting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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