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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2007, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Profile: Barack Obama
"Rock star" and "beach babe" are not labels normally applied to United States senators.

Barack Obama in front of the White House, Jan 2007
Panorama: Is America ready for a Black President, Monday 15 October at 2030 BST on BBC One
But few senators have ever generated the kind of buzz associated with Democrat Barack Obama of Illinois.

He is being tipped as a formidable candidate to replace George W Bush as president, although he will have spent only four years in Washington by Election Day 2008.

He first shot to national - and international - prominence with a speech that stirred the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

The son of a Kenyan man and a white woman from Kansas, Mr Obama emphasised his personal history in a speech reflecting traditional American ideals of self-reliance and aspirations.

"Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place - America, which stood as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before," he said.

Born 4 Aug 1961 in Hawaii
Studied law at Harvard
Worked as a civil rights lawyer in Chicago
Elected to the US Senate in 2004
Since his landslide election victory a few months later, he has become a media darling and one of the most visible figures in Washington.

Time magazine headlined an October 2006 cover "Why Barack Obama could be the Next President", and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey urged him to declare his candidacy on her programme.

His two books have both become best-sellers, and delirious crowds turned out to see him on the campaign trail for other Democrats in 2006.

When he made his first trip to the state of New Hampshire - one of the first to choose its candidate for president - the governor joked that he had booked Mr Obama for an appearance because he would sell more tickets than the Rolling Stones.

As a senator, he has established a firmly liberal voting record, but has also worked with Republican colleagues on issues such as Aids education and prevention.

International upbringing

Mr Obama is named after his father, who grew up in Kenya herding goats but gained a scholarship to study in Hawaii.

There the Kenyan met and married Mr Obama's mother, who was living in Honolulu with her parents.

Barack Obama and his wife Michelle at the Democratic convention in Boston, July 2004
Mr Obama wowed the 2004 Democratic National Convention
When Mr Obama was a toddler, his father got a chance to study at Harvard but there was no money for the family to go with him. He later returned to Kenya alone, where he worked as a government economist, and the couple divorced.

When Mr Obama was six, his mother, Ann, married an Indonesian man and the family moved to Jakarta.

The boy lived there for four years, but then moved back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents and attend school.

Mr Obama went on to study political science at Columbia University in New York, and then moved to Chicago where he spent three years as a community organiser.

In 1988 he left to attend Harvard Law School, where he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

After Harvard, Mr Obama returned to Chicago to practise civil rights law, representing victims of housing and employment discrimination.

He is married to a lawyer, Michelle, and they have two young daughters.

Opposed invasion

Mr Obama was an early critic of the Iraq war, speaking out against the prospect of war several months before the March 2003 invasion.

When he addressed Democrats in Boston, he praised the men and women serving in Iraq, and said more should be done to financially support the families of those killed.

"When we send our young 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 tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world," he said.

Mr Obama often jokes that people are always getting his name wrong, calling him "Alabama" or "Yo Mama".

The American cable station CNN was forced to apologise to him after it wrongly put his name on screen during a story about Osama Bin Laden.

Supporters believe that one day, no-one will make that mistake.

Panorama: Is America ready for a Black President, Monday 15 October 2007 at 2030 BST on BBC One

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