By the fall of 2002, Barack Obama had been in the Illinois state senate for not quite six years. He was a member of the Democratic minority, representing a swath of Chicago's South Side. He had done what he could in a state capital where Republicans ruled, and he was ready for a change. As it happened, so were voters in Illinois, who that November put the Democrats back in power in Springfield.
A few months later Obama went to see Emil Jones Jr., the newly chosen state-senate president and the man who loomed as perhaps the most powerful black politician in Illinois. He went to see Jones with a big idea. By that point the two men had known each other for the better part of 20 years, but theirs had not always been an easy relationship. They had first met in the mid-1980s, when Obama, as a community organizer on the far South Side, had seen Jones as an "old ward heeler" who backed the wrong horse in Harold Washington's successful quest to become the city's first black mayor. Jones had had to jockey for a place on the stage near the new mayor at a public event that Obama had helped plan.