What a meteoric rise the freshman Senator from Illinois has enjoyed. My political affiliation aside, I have to admit as Senator Barack Obama announced that he would indeed seek the Presidency of the United States, I had goosebumps. It wasn’t the 17,000 strong chanting “Oh-Bama! Oh-Bama!” in the frigid Springfield air. Nor was it that Obama chose to launch his presidential campaign Saturday in Springfield, the city most closely tied to Abraham Lincoln's legacy. It wasn’t that he spoke at Illinois' Old State Capitol, where Lincoln served as a legislator and gave his famous “A House Divided” speech. Having graduated from Gettysburg College, I am partial to famous Lincoln speeches.

Then what exactly gave me goosebumps?

Four short years ago, a little known State Senator from the South Side of Chicago bummed some Citrus Altoids from me. Now maybe someday, I can tell my kids that the first African-American President hit their father up for some candy.

The first time I met Barack Obama was October 2003. At the time, he was running for U.S. Senate and Obama was in fourth place in the polls. A long shot to win even the Democratic nomination for the seat being vacated by Senator Peter Fitzgerald, Obama trailed a millionaire businessman, the Illinois State Comptroller and the Cook County Treasurer. Eleven candidates (Five Republican and Six Democrats) participated in the first debate hosted by Fox News and the NAACP. And even though Obama was in fourth place in the polls, I am on record as saying only two candidates of the eleven were Senatorial. Obama was one and my candidate was the other. As candidates headed towards the post debate press briefing, Obama and I shared our Altoids moment.

Watching Obama make his announcement, I thought “what an amazing country”. It’s not that he’s come so far in such a short period of time. It is not that, as he put it in 2004, “the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.” We’re taught an early age that we can accomplish anything when we put our minds and hearts to it. But the beauty of this country is that a 38-year old can believe and accomplish the same thing. In 2000, Obama ran for Congress and received only 31% of the vote. Now just seven years later, 17,000 strong chanted “Oh-Bama!” as he began a possible journey to the White House. What a story. Only in America is this meteoric rise possible. Goosebumps.

Now, whatever happens during the course of this election, I can always say back before the world knew him, we shared Altoids.

David Zapata

***Watch what else I have to say about Obama’s grassroots campaign to the White House.

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