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U.S. Senate
In Illinois, Obama defeats Keyes in race called 1 of the strangest in state's history

Barack Obama waited for returns in Chicago with wife Michelle and daughter Sasha. He became a political sensation after the Democratic convention. -- Scott Olson / Getty Images
 
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Associated Press
November 3, 2004
 

CHICAGO -- Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and an American mother who shot from obscurity to political stardom in mere months, trounced Republican Alan Keyes on Tuesday to claim a Senate seat in Illinois. He will be just the third black U.S. senator since Reconstruction.

The resounding victory is the latest chapter in a rags-to-riches story for a man who grew up on the beaches of Hawaii and the streets of Indonesia but has gone on to become a linchpin of the Democratic Party's future.

He gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention this year, delivering a message of national unity in a stirring speech that made him an overnight political sensation. National news shows and magazines profiled him, and the 43-year-old state senator from Chicago became a top draw for other Democrats' campaigns nationwide.

Obama will replace Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who declined to run for a second term.

The campaign was one of the strangest races in state history -- a contest between a liberal political superstar and a conservative former ambassador who had never lived in Illinois. And Keyes was far from the GOP's top choice.

Investment banker-turned-teacher Jack Ryan won the Republican primary in March, but dropped out of the race three months later after records were released from his divorce with "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Boston Public" actress Jeri Ryan. The documents revealed embarrassing allegations that the candidate took his wife to sex clubs in Paris, New York and New Orleans and tried to get her to perform sex acts while others watched.

The GOP searched for a replacement candidate but was turned down by a string of former governors, state senators and even Chicago Bears legend Mike Ditka. Only in August did the Republican Party settle on a replacement candidate, offering the role to Keyes, a conservative Maryland resident and two-time presidential candidate.

Keyes also is black. It was the first U.S. Senate election in history in which two black candidates represented the major parties.

Keyes, 54, focused his campaign on morality and argued that abortion and homosexuality threaten the country.

The United States has had four black U.S. senators in its history and two since Reconstruction: Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.

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