Barack Obama launched the presidential campaign 15 years ago in Springfield: looking back and forward
WASHINGTON — Thursday marks 15 years since Barack Obama officially launched his first presidential campaign on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield.
February 10, 2007.
It was a long day. Started in Springfield. Completed after rallies in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, Iowa, State with the 2008 Kickoff Presidential Caucus.
The previous night, Senator Barack Obama, his wife Michelle and other people they knew arrived at the hotel around 10 p.m. with a picture of Obama superimposed on the old State Capitol.
The city was chosen because of its symbolism. It was in Springfield that Obama – and Abraham Lincoln – began their political careers.
The Old State House was the obvious site for the man seeking to become the nation’s first black president. It was the site of Lincoln’s famous ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand’ speech in 1858 denouncing slavery.
It was freezing cold that morning. Before Obama spoke, I was on the MSNBC set outside the Old State House, offering analysis with Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman.
Frozen to the bone, I took refuge in the internal press kit center supervised by a new young member of Obama’s staff, Samantha Tubman, the deputy press officer, who joined the campaign a few weeks earlier and was seconded to Springfield for the announcement.
Obama broke into “City of Blinding Lights,” the U2 hit that would be – and to this day is – his signature song.
In his speech, Obama explained that there was “a certain audacity” in the freshman senator who made a bid for the White House.
“I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning Washington’s ways. But I’ve been here long enough to know that Washington’s ways have to change,” he said.
“And that is why, in the shadow of the old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called a house divided to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America.”
Obama’s “hope” and “change” campaign slogans suggested that as president he could create permanent transformation.
It shouldn’t be.
President Donald Trump has followed Obama’s two terms, with his political rise fueled by his Obama birth lies.
Trump’s division, lies and personal dealings led to two impeachments and the current threat to our democracy resulting from his attempts to void the 2020 election.
At the time, however, the purpose of the speech was to get Obama elected, and those words struck political gold, setting the stage for his victory.
Shortly after the speech, the 57 reporters from Obama’s roving press corps were rushed to a waiting plane to fly to Iowa. His Waterloo rally lasted until about 10 p.m.
After clinching the nomination, Obama returned to the Old State Capitol on August 23, 2008, with Joe and Jill Biden, to announce that the Delaware senator would be his running mate.
Obama will spend Thursday in his native Hawaii. He built a house there, his fourth residence. The Obamas have homes in Chicago, DC and Martha’s Vineyard.
During a virtual session with House Democrats, he will have a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Obamas directly oversee three operations: their joint personal office in DC; the Chicago-based Obama Foundation; and in Hollywood, Higher Ground Productions, a partnership with Netflix.
When I spoke to Tubman on Wednesday, she recalled “you could hear a pin drop” when Obama spoke that day.
Like many veterans of the Obama campaigns and administration, Tubman’s life trajectory changed the day she joined the campaign.
The Obama Foundation will highlight some stories from other Obama alumni on Thursday.
Tubman landed in Michelle Obama’s social desk at the White House, then moved to the State Department’s Office of Protocol. After serving in the administration for eight years, after the presidency, she joined the Obama Foundation.
In 2021, she moved to Los Angeles. She is now in the front office of the LA Lakers, serving as chief of staff for basketball operations.
I asked how she landed in Los Angeles, which led to another Obama alumni story.
Joe Paulsen worked on Obama’s announcement tour and was also in the White House for all eight years in various capacities, including as Obama’s “body man”.
In Obama’s post-presidency, Paulsen served as Obama’s deputy chief of staff in his personal office, where one of his duties was overseeing Higher Ground. In 2021, he moved to Los Angeles to become one of its top executives.
And Tubman and Paulsen – they’re engaged.
Who knew 15 years ago where this day in Springfield would lead.
FOOTNOTE: Obama will be in Chicago on March 10 to headline the centennial celebration of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.