A Streetwise Veteran Schooled a Young Obama





The rise of Barack Obama includes one glaring episode of political miscalculation. Even friends told Mr. Obama it was a bad idea when he decided in 1999 to challenge an incumbent congressman and former Black Panther, Bobby L. Rush, whose stronghold on the South Side of Chicago was overwhelmingly black, Democratic and working class.

Mr. Obama was a 38-year-old state senator and University of Chicago lecturer, unknown in much of Mr. Rush’s Congressional district. He lived in its most rarefied neighborhood, Hyde Park. He was taking on a local legend, a former alderman and four-term incumbent who had given voters no obvious reason to displace him....

It also shed light on the complicated ways that class has played out in Mr. Obama’s political career as a factor entangled with his race. Class emerged as a subtext in the Congressional campaign, along with generational differences that separate Mr. Obama from older black politicians....

“I think that Obama, his election to the Senate, was divinely ordered,” Mr. Rush said, all other explanations failing. “I’m a preacher and a pastor; I know that that was God’s plan. Obama has certain qualities that — I think he is being used for some purpose. I really believe that.”

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