DES MOINES, Iowa — He spent the morning doing what he's loved since he was a kid named Barry growing up in Hawaii: playing basketball with friends. But by day's end, as Barack Obama ascended the stage to give his victory speech, he couldn't pretend that anything was ordinary anymore.
At 46, the freshman U.S. senator from Chicago had undeniably made history, as the first African-American to win the caucuses in this rural and almost entirely white state and arguably become the front-runner for his party's presidential nomination.
"Years from now," he told his supporters, his voice hoarse, "you'll be able to look back with pride and say this was the moment when it all began. . . . This was the moment when we tore down barriers that have divided us for too long."
It was a stunning achievement for a senator with virtually no foreign policy experience running in a time of war and globalization, and for a candidate who was unknown nationally until he captured the nation's attention with a speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
His themes of hope and change, his promise to govern in a bipartisan spirit and to unite races and cultures, his argument that he'd opposed the Iraq war from the outset, unlike Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, all helped boost Obama, especially with young voters and independents.
"Hope is what led me here today, with a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas and a story that can only happen in the United States of America," he said.
His supporters were ecstatic as they filed into the hall to wait for him, most already having heard of his victory as they drove in.
"Change has arrived, that's right!" said Shannon Coleman, a 38-year-old African-American school employee who arrived with her husband, John, a 35-year-old white truck driver.
"It's the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination, and I believe now is the time and he is the man," she said of Obama. "To me, it's from the Bible: It took 40 years in the desert . . . " Her husband finished her thought: "The Israelites, a trip that should have taken two weeks or three weeks, took 40 years. It represents history," John Coleman said. "Who built America? It was a mix of races of people."
Said Stephanie Asklof, 56, a white caucus-goer, "I'm so proud of our state. I think what it symbolizes is we've come to a point where people are really not looking at race — they're looking at character, ideas, the ability to be the uniter."
The rowdy crowd kept erupting in claps and cheers as TV screens projected Obama the winner.
"Fired up. Ready to go," they chanted. "O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA."
Obama was having dinner at a steak restaurant in West Des Moines when he learned that the TV networks had projected that he was the winner.
As he took the stage with his wife and their two daughters, his face was beaming but his body language was calm and cool. He waved and clapped. The speakers blared global activist band U-2, then Stevie Wonder.
And as the crowd dispersed, it was Brooks & Dunn's "Only in America."