Obama Charts Unlikely, But Historic, Path to Front-Runner in Presidential Election

Ahead in the polls, Obama is propelled by calls for change and deep anger at nation's economic woes.

Barack Obama walks down a beach in Kailua, Hawaii, with Malia, left, and Sasha, during their August vacation.

Barack Obama in Hawaii with daughters Malia (L) and Sasha.

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As a state senator, Obama was close to a local real estate developer named Tony Rezko, who became an important fundraiser and donor. Rezko, convicted on unrelated corruption charges in June, was involved in a controversial real estate deal with Obama, which the Illinois senator later called "boneheaded." McCain has also linked Obama to William Ayers, a former violent anti-Vietnam War radical who now teaches at the University of Illinois-Chicago. But Obama was never close to Ayers, and he has denounced his past activities.

Obama's youth has been a frequent topic as well. But at 47, he would be the fifth-youngest president. Theodore Roosevelt, the youngest president ever, took office at age 42.

Obama's supporters say that his election on November 4 would demonstrate how far the nation has moved toward tolerance and conciliation since the shameful days of slavery and segregation and that this alone would get an Obama presidency off to a promising start