ASSOCIATED PRESS / AUGUST 2004
Barack Obama's record of supporting liberal policies in the Illinois legislature before joining the Senate could affect his presidential aspirations. Here, he campaigns for the U.S. Senate at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield.
Obama's political past a minefield
As a state senator he supported numerous hot-button measures
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. » Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama might have a lot of explaining to do.
The Hawaii native voted against requiring medical care for aborted fetuses who survive. He supported allowing retired police officers to carry concealed weapons but opposed allowing people to use banned handguns to defend against intruders in their homes. And the list of sensitive topics goes on.
With only a slim two-year record in the U.S. Senate, Obama does not have many controversial congressional votes that political opponents can frame into attack ads. But his eight years as an Illinois state senator are sprinkled with potentially explosive land mines, such as his abortion and gun-control votes.
Obama, who filed papers this week creating an exploratory committee to seek the 2008 Democratic nomination, could also find himself fielding questions about his actions outside public office, from his acknowledgment of cocaine use in his youth to a more recent land purchase from a political supporter who is facing charges in an unrelated kickback scheme involving investment firms seeking state business.
Obama was known in the Illinois Capitol as a consistently liberal senator who reflected the views of voters in his Chicago district. He helped reform the state death penalty system and create tax breaks for the poor while developing a reputation as someone who would work with critics to build consensus.
He had a 100 percent rating from the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council for his support of abortion rights, family planning services and health insurance coverage for female contraceptives.
One vote that especially riled abortion opponents involved restrictions on a type of abortion where the fetus sometimes survives, occasionally for hours. The restrictions, which never became law, included requiring the presence of a second doctor to care for the fetus.
"Everyone's going to use this and pound him over the head with it," said Daniel McConchie, vice president and chief of staff for Americans United for Life.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said voters will be able to judge distorted accounts of his votes against his legislative career in general.
"I don't doubt that if you take a series of votes and twist them and kind of squint, you can write a narrative the way you want to write it," Gibbs said. "I think what people understand is that (what matters) is taking the full measure of his career and the full measure of his legislative efforts."
Obama argued the legislation was worded in a way that unconstitutionally threatened a woman's right to abortion by defining the fetus as a child.
Such hot-button issues were the exception in a legislative career that focused more on building consensus to improve the justice system and aid the poor.
Gibbs noted Obama's leadership on legislation requiring police to videotape interrogations in murder cases. It started out as a controversial idea but ended up passing the Senate unanimously.
Allies and opponents alike say he listened to those who disagreed, cooperated with Republicans and incorporated other people's suggestions for improving legislation.
"He was looked upon by members of both parties as someone whose view we listened carefully to," said Republican state Sen. Kirk Dillard from Hinsdale, Ill.