First, the smile. He enters a room waving, flashing that megawatt grin. But, truly, his reputation precedes him.
No politician in modern times has risen so far so fast on so much hype. But that has been a blessing and a burden for Barack Obama, 46, the first-term senator from Illinois.
He is an eloquent speaker, a master of the grand-hall set piece. Retail politicking, of the look-'em-in-the-eye sort, has not come as easily. Obama is deliberative, cerebral, not one to hug or emote from the stump.
Early on, he was criticized for lacking specifics. His performance in debates was uneven. Some walked away from campaign events asking what all the fuss was about.
But over the months, Obama grew more sure-footed, his speeches meatier, his delivery more self-assured. A brisk 20 minutes, a promise of "real, meaningful change," a slap at special interests, a poke at politicians who triangulate and change with the prevailing winds. (No names. Any guesses?)
Obama lacks the extensive Washington experience of his rivals -- a good thing, he says -- and so his candidacy is based in good measure on faith and trust -- trust that his youth, his judgment and his ability to move audiences can deliver the big change he promises.
He, in turn, puts his faith in the American people, trusting that after 200-plus years they are ready to elect an African American as president. -- Mark Z. Barabak