People who met Barack Obama before he ran for President were almost universally impressed with his demeanor and intelligence.
William Finnegan of The New Yorker writes:
In the spring of 2004, Jan Schakowsky, a Democratic congresswoman from Evanston, Illinois, told me a funny story about startling President Bush during a visit to the White House. She was wearing a big, blue “OBAMA” button. This was in the early days of Barack Obama’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. Bush “jumped back, almost literally,” Schakowsky said. “And I knew what he was thinking. So I reassured him it was Obama, with a ‘b.’ And I explained who he was. The President said, ‘Well, I don’t know him.’ So I just said, ‘You will.’”
I included this anecdote in a Profile of Obama, a piece that probably served to introduce him to many readers—this was before his breakout speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. What I didn’t include was something else Schakowsky said. “I think he’s got it,” she told me. “He can go the distance. He could be the first black President.” The quote was too bald, too broad, too bannerlike. Lots of other people in Illinois, including some Republicans, talked up Obama’s extraordinary promise, his possible future on the national stage, and I did use some of those remarks. But just coming out and saying “first black President” felt not only absurdly premature but like bad juju. The road from here to there—or there to here, as it’s turned out—was long and unknowable and not to be glibly compressed.
The joy of Obama’s victory has not yet worn off. I’m sure that once Obama actually begins to govern, I’ll be disappointed in his center-left positions, but to be honest, I’d much rather have a center-left president than a rabidly conservative one.
Mr. Finnegan’s longer profile of Obama is quite interesting reading, take a glance for yourself.