How Obama launched his historic bid for the White House

How Obama launched his historic bid for the White House
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This article is part of a series on Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHolder: DOJ, FBI should reject Trump's requests The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ Asian American and Pacific Islander community will be critical to ensuring successful 2018 elections for Democrats MORE's presidency, nine years after he announced his White House bid on Feb. 10, 2007. To read the rest of the series click here.


It was the moment that would launch his presidency, and Barack Obama was late. 

As time ticked closer to the start of his kickoff speech — the event that would begin his historic candidacy and eventually catapult him to the White House — his driver was lost somewhere in Springfield, Ill. 

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Nine years have passed since the young senator from Illinois took to the stage before the Old State Capitol on that February day, as U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” blared from the speakers. 

Trusted aide Alyssa Mastromonaco chose the song, which would become Obama’s 2008 anthem. When some other aides objected to it because the rock band was Irish, she objected. 

“It’s going to be perfect,” she said.

To some, the speech seems like yesterday. One aide remembers Obama wondering whether the stage was going to collapse underneath him. 

“No,” the aide told him. “I got the best people to do this for free.”  

To others, the speech feels like ancient history. One aide involved in preparations recalled the “absurdly cold” day but little else.

Obama, growing a bit nostalgic in the winter of his presidency, will bring it all full circle when he travels back to Springfield on Wednesday to address the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as a state senator. 

The president will speak about how the nation can build politics “that reflects our better self,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters recently. And particularly, how to “take up the unfinished business of perfecting our union.” 

Those themes, echoed in Obama’s State of the Union address last month, are reflective of the tone he tried to strike in his White House announcement speech nine years ago.   

“What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics, the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle the big problems of America,” he said at the time. 

Since taking office, Obama has been met with the rise of the Tea Party, congressional gridlock and a partisan cat-and-mouse game. That hyperpartisanship has resulted in a craving for non-establishment candidates like Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRed states find there’s no free pass on Medicaid changes from Trump Trump meets with Moon in crucial moment for Korea summit The Memo: Trump flirts with constitutional crisis MORE on the right and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersClinton backs Georgia governor hopeful on eve of primary The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ Bernie Sanders announces Senate reelection bid MORE on the left in the 2016 election to replace him. 

But with 11 months to go in office, Obama thinks there is still time to invoke the sentiments he addressed all those years ago in Springfield. 

Former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderHolder: DOJ, FBI should reject Trump's requests Obama-linked group charts path for midterm elections Senators should be unanimous in their support of Haspel for CIA chief MORE said in an interview that Obama is “both wistful and determined.” While he ponders the past, “I know he’s bound an determined to make his last year an achievement still.” 

Another longtime senior aide agreed. 

“I think that he is looking hard at whatever it is he has in his head,” the aide said. “He’s not going to limp across the finish line. He’s going to charge across the finish line.” 

And that’s the essence of Obama, aides say. When people are counting him out, when they think his chances of accomplishing something are slim, he manages to prove them wrong.

“That’s why Springfield is so significant,” one former aide said.