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Obama Meets Setbacks With Mix of Resilience, Caution

In the final report in a series focusing on the presidential candidates' governing styles, advisers and colleagues of Sen. Barack Obama detail how he has managed to overcome adversity during his life and career.

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    It was the most public humiliation of Barack Obama's young political life. In the Chicago Democratic primary in the spring of 2000, as an ambitious first-term state senator, Obama tried to snatch Congressman Bobby Rush's seat away from him and lost by 31 points.

    Obama biographer David Mendell.

  • DAVID MENDELL, Obama Biographer:

    He just thought, by the power of his persona, the power of his message, the power of who he is that he could unseat this well-thought-of congressman on the South Side. And it just wasn't his turn. It wasn't his time.

    FORMER REP. ABNER MIKVA (D), Illinois: He allowed himself to believe certain things that were not believable, one of which he thought that he would get Mayor Daley's support.


    Retired congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva, a mentor to Obama, says naivete blinded his young friend to the realities of the way Chicago politics worked.

    He recalls Obama describing his pre-election meeting with Mayor Richie Daley, son of the legendary Chicago boss Richard J. Daley.


    And what he told me is, at the end, that the mayor stood up and said, "Well, good luck to you." And Barack said, "Well, I read that that maybe he's open." And I said, "No, it's closed, because that's what the old man used to say, 'Good luck to you, fella,' and that meant that you were on your own."

    And that's what happened. Mayor Daley basically supported Rush, and Barack lost badly.


    Obama, by his own account, was devastated. As he later wrote in "The Audacity of Hope," "It's impossible not to feel at some level as if you've been personally repudiated by the entire community, that you don't quite have what it takes, and that everywhere you go the word 'loser' is flashing through people's minds."


    That was probably the low point in his life. He went to the Democratic convention in Los Angeles and didn't have enough money on his credit card to rent a car.

    And this was not the vision he saw for himself. He thought he was going to be a major politician with grand influence, and he had made that attempt and failed miserably at it.


    Obama's dejection didn't last long. He made a cool assessment of what he'd done wrong and set about to fix it. He courted wealthy donors, cultivated political mentors, and repaired frayed relations with the Chicago machine wing of his party.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: I'm looking forward to working with each and every one of you.

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