Political Career of Barack Obama

Obama Speaks at DNC Fundraiser in Chicago

Scott Olson / Staff / Getty Images


Barack Hussein Obama II graduated high school with honors in 1979 and was president of the Harvard Law Review long before he ever decided to enter politics.

When he decided he wanted to run for the Illinois Senate in 1996, he ensured his candidacy by successfully challenging the nomination petitions of his four competitors. This marked his entry into politics. 


Obama is a summer associate at the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin.


Obama graduates from Harvard and returns to Chicago.


In July, Obama—at age 34—publishes his first memoir, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. In August, Obama files paperwork to run for incumbent Alice Palmer's Illinois Senate seat.


In January, Obama has his four competitor petitions invalidated; he emerges as the only candidate. In November, he is elected to the Illinois Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.


Obama begins running for Congress.


Obama loses his challenge for the congressional seat held by Rep. Bobby Rush.


In November, Democrats flipped Republican control of the Illinois Senate.


Obama amasses his legislative record and serves as chair of the Health and Human Services Committee.


Obama begins running for U.S. Senate; the leading Democratic candidate withdraws in 2004 due to a sex scandal. David Axelrod begins having camera crews video virtually everything Obama does in public. He uses this footage to create a five-minute online video for the Jan. 16, 2007, announcement that Obama is running for president.


In March, Obama wins the primary with 52% of the vote. In June, his Republican opponent Jack Ryan withdraws due to a sex scandal. He delivers the Democratic National Convention address in July 2004, and in November he is elected to the U.S. Senate with 70% of the vote.


Obama files paperwork for his leadership PAC, The Hope Fund, in January. Shortly after his election to the U.S. Senate, he delivers a well-received address arguing faith should have a greater role in public discourse.


Obama writes and publishes his book The Audacity of Hope. In October, he announces he is considering a run for the presidency of the United States.


In February, Obama announces his candidacy for U.S. president. 


In June, he becomes the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee. In November, he defeats Republican presidential nominee John McCain to become the first African-American president of the United States of America and the 44th president of the country.


Obama is inaugurated in January. In his first 100 days in office, he expands health care insurance for children and provides legal protection for women seeking equal pay. He gets Congress to pass a $787 billion stimulus bill to promote short-term economic growth, and he also cuts taxes for working families, small businesses and first-time home buyers. He loosens the ban on embryonic stem cell research and improves relations with Europe, China, Cuba, and Venezuela. The president is awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.


Obama delivers his first State of the Union speech in January. In March, he signs his health care reform plan, known as the Affordable Care Act, into law. Opponents of the act claim that it violates the U.S. Constitution. In August, announces the partial withdrawal of troops from Iraq, declaring an end to America's combat mission. The full withdrawal will be completed the next year.


Obama signs the Budget Control Act to rein in government spending. He also signs a repeal of the military policy known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which prevents openly gay troops from serving in U.S. Armed Forces. In May, he green lights a covert operation in Pakistan that leads to the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs.


Obama begins running for his second term, and in November, he wins with nearly 5 million more votes than Republican Mitt Romney.


Obama gets a legislative victory with a bipartisan agreement on tax increases and spending cuts, which is a step toward keeping his reelection promise of reducing the federal deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy. In June, his approval ratings tank because of an alleged cover-up of events in Benghazi, Libya, that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and two other Americans dead; because of allegations that the IRS is targeting conservative political organizations seeking tax-exempt status; and due to revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance program. The Obama administration struggles with many domestic and international problems.


Obama orders sanctions on Russia because of its annexation of Crimea. House Speaker John Boehner sues the president, claiming he has overstepped his executive powers regarding some parts of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans gain control of the Senate, and now Obama has to contend with the fact that Republicans control both houses of Congress during the final two years of his second term.


At his second State of the Union address, he claims that the United States is out of the recession. With Democrats outnumbered, he threatens to use his executive powers to stave off any potential Republican interference in his agenda. Obama has two major Supreme Court victories in this year: The Affordable Care Act's tax subsidies are upheld, and same-sex marriage becomes legal nationwide. Also, Obama and the five world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) reach a historic nuclear deal with Iran. And Obama launches his Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gases and emissions.


In his final year in office, Obama tackles gun control but is met with strong opposition from both parties. He delivers his final State of the Union address on January 12, 2016. In March, he becomes the first sitting U.S. president since 1928 to visit Cuba.


Obama delivers his farewell address in January in Chicago. During his last day in office on January 19 he announces that he will commute the sentences of 330 nonviolent drug offenders. Also in his final days, Obama presents Vice President Joe Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction.

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Gill, Kathy. "Political Career of Barack Obama." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/barack-obamas-political-career-3368167. Gill, Kathy. (2021, July 31). Political Career of Barack Obama. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/barack-obamas-political-career-3368167 Gill, Kathy. "Political Career of Barack Obama." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/barack-obamas-political-career-3368167 (accessed June 2, 2023).