The First Time I Met Illinois Senate Candidate Barack Obama

Stuart Rothenberg January 17, 2017 · 8:30 AM EST

With the end of the Obama Administration approaching, I recently looked back at the notes from my two meetings with Barack Obama during his run for the United States Senate.  Obama was not well known then, and he was regarded as nothing more than a long-shot for the Democratic nomination. 

I first met then-state Sen. Barack Obama on September 13, 2002, almost a year to the day after the attacks of 9/11. The second meeting was almost a year later, on September 26, 2003. 

The initial meeting was relatively brief and introductory. Normally, I wouldn’t meet a candidate for a 2004 race before the 2002 elections were over, but Democratic consultant Joe McLean, who phoned me to meet his Democratic Senate hopeful, wouldn’t take no for an answer. 

Initially, McLean told me only that he had a terrific candidate. It was only after I agreed to meet the man that Joe told me his name: Barack Obama. When I heard the name, I was doubly sure that I would be wasting my time. After all, Osama bin Laden was in the news often, and some Illinois voters were likely to confuse Osama and Obama.

I was skeptical that this Obama could compete in Chicago’s ethnic wards, the suburbs or downstate. But I had given my word to Joe.

Much of the meeting was devoted to Obama’s bio. My notes show “born Hawaii”…

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