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Inside Politics

Obama looks to own past in convention speech

Son of immigrant says his story is part of larger American one

Barack Obama: "John Kerry believes in America."
Barack Obama makes Tuesday's keynote address to the DNC.

Wolf Blitzer on Barack Obama, U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois.
Day Three: Wednesday

• Theme: "A Stronger, More Secure America"

• 4 p.m. ET: Session opens

• 7-9 p.m. ET: Speakers include Elijah Cummings, John Edwards' daughter Cate, Bob Graham, Dennis Kucinich, Ed Rendell

• 9 p.m. ET: Speakers include Bill Richardson, Jennifer Granholm

• 10 p.m. ET: Elizabeth Edwards introduces her husband, John Edwards for his keynote address
Barack Obama
Democratic Convention
America Votes 2004

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Barack Obama, one of the Democratic Party's rising stars, used his own story in a call Tuesday night for America to "reclaim its promise" as a place of opportunity and "the audacity of hope."

"Let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely," said Obama, who is running for the open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois. He has no Republican opposition, and if he wins, he would become only the third black senator since Reconstruction. (Profile)

Obama, who turns 43 in August, recalled that his father was a foreign student from a small village in Kenya who "grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack" and that his mother was born in Kansas, the daughter of an itinerant oil rig worker. (Read transcript)

"My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation," Obama told the Democratic National Convention as the night's keynote speaker.

"They would give me an African name, Barack, or 'blessed,' believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success," he said.

"They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren't rich, because in a generous America you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential."

Obama, who was born in Hawaii and grew up in Chicago, is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard University Law School.

"I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible," said Obama, who has been an Illinois state senator since 1997.

He appears to be a shoo-in for the U.S. Senate since his Republican challenger, Jack Ryan, withdrew from the race in June after court documents were unsealed in which his ex-wife alleged that he asked her to engage in sexual activity in front of patrons at sex clubs when they were married. Ryan denied the allegations. (Full story)

The GOP has yet to find a replacement candidate, but as Obama told CNN earlier Tuesday, "Three months is a lifetime in politics."

He was introduced by longtime Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who referred to Obama as "a man who can help heal the divisions of our nation."

Obama said that as he travels around his state, the people he meets "don't expect government to solve all their problems."

"But they sense ... that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life," Obama said. "They know we can do better. And they want that choice."

Obama said Sen. John Kerry offers that choice, mentioning the party's all-but-anointed nominee 13 times.

"John Kerry believes in an America where hard work is rewarded" and "that we're all connected as one people," Obama said.

"Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes," Obama said.

"Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America.

"There is not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America -- there is the United States of America," Obama said.

"We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."

The crowd rose to its feet with thunderous applause. A sea of "Obama" signs waved in the air, and delegates chanted, "Obama! Obama! Obama!"

Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, who went to Harvard Law School with Obama, called it "a very, very powerful speech."

"It was a fantastic speech," Davis said. "It was a powerful statement of Democratic values."

Willie Hampton, a delegate from Detroit, Michigan, echoed that sentiment, calling it a dynamic speech that "hit all the points about one America."

"Our job is to be one America, in unity, for our kids," he said.

Obama returned often to the theme of hope.

He spoke of the hope of slaves singing freedom songs, the hope of immigrants, and "the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope."

"In the end," Obama said, "that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?"

CNN's Wayne Drash and David Osier contributed to this report.

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