The son of an American mother and a father from the Nyanza province of Kenya, Barack Obama's presidential ambition is to unite the US and in doing so become the country's first black president.

Obama has only been in the US
senate for two years [EPA]
A talented orator, Obama has been a consistent critic of the US-led war in Iraq and was quoted as far back as 2002 saying he would have voted no on the Iraq resolution.

The senator first came to the political fore in 2004 when he addressed the Democratic national convention and delivered a rebuke of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

"When we send our men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they're going to care for their families while they're gone, to care for their families upon they're return," he said.

As is often the case with "rising stars", the buzz around Obama, especially in the Democrat camp, has been electrifying and his good looks and charisma have inevitably led to comparisons with John F Kennedy.

His political centrism and strong religious values also play well with both liberal and conservative Americans looking for a new era following the Bush administration and a solution to their country’s problems.

In Smokey's barbershop on Capitol Hill, Al Jazeera talked to African-Americans who say Obama has instilled an optimism in their community that they have not experienced in a long time.

"He's all about helping us achieve the things we need to achieve," says one woman while another thinks Obama is "articulate, smart. Seems to be the one who wants to unite the country. He loves his country".

Lack of experience

However, despite the hype, there are some factors that suggest the 45-year-old senator for Illinois might not be charting an inexorable course to the White House.

First, Obama may not even secure the Democratic nomination from an ever-increasing field that includes political heavyweights such as Hillary Clinton.

Second, were he to secure the nomination, many feel his solitary two years as a senator is insufficient experience of national politics for the top job.

Allan Litchman, a presidential historian, believes Obama's lack of experience will count against him and thinks "people wonder whether he's ready or maybe pushing too hard too soon".

There is also the issue of his name which has generated much interest in the media. With a middle name of Hussein and a spoof video showing him dressed as Osama Bin Laden, Obama will doubtless spend a lot of his 2008 campaign dispelling myths and defying stereotypes.

Indeed his supporters point to the fact that as he is a relatively new face on the political scene, the senator is untainted by the political mudslinging of recent years and his longstanding criticism of the conflict in Iraq means he cannot be hamstrung on the issue in the way John Kerry was during the last presidential campaign.

He has been trying to add political weight to his undoubted oratorical and personal skills, and recently unveiled his plans to introduce binding legislation for the phased redeployment of American forces in the Middle East.

Multicultural background

Obama portrays himself as a unifier and above the petty divisions that sometimes characterise US politics and such an attitude could be traced to his background.

Obama was born in Hawaii in August 1961 to a Kenyan father, Barrack Hussein Obama Snr, and an American mother from Kansas. He grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia with his maternal family after his parents separated when he was only two.

He studied political science at Columbia University specialising in international relations, and later moved to Chicago where he headed up a non-profit project organising job training for residents of poor neighbourhoods.

While studying law at Harvard, he became editor of the school's prestigious law magazine and entered state politics in Illinois 10 years ago.

Obama is a committed Christian and family man, with two daughters.

Both his parents are now dead but his paternal grandmother in Kenya told Al Jazeera that the people of the village from where his father hails - and that has a school bearing the name of the senator - are all hoping he has the opportunity to fulfil his dream and unite the US.

Source: Al Jazeera