In 1999, Obama made his first run for national office by entering the Democratic primary race for Congress against incumbent Rep. Bobby Rush. In October 1999, Rush’s son was fatally shot by drug dealers outside his home, and Obama suspended his campaign for a month.
That December, Obama announced he would push federal gun legislation that goes far beyond than what he is proposing now. It would have limited gun purchases to one a month, banned the sale of firearms other than antiques at gun shows, limited the sale of guns to adults over 21 who took a training course and increased gun licensing fees. He also would have increased the penalties on gun runners and brought a felony charge against owners who didn’t lock up firearms that were later stolen and used in a crime.
He announced the antigun plan near the home of an 84-year-old woman killed when several young men invaded her home mistakenly believing she won the lottery.
But Obama went to his native Hawaii for the Christmas holiday to see his grandmother and spend time with his wife and then 18-month-old daughter, Malia. He wrote in his autobiography ‘‘The Audacity of Hope’’ about how the Legislature was called back into special session while he was gone, but Malia was sick and unable to fly home.
"I got off the redeye at O'Hare Airport, a wailing baby in tow, Michelle not speaking to me, and was greeted by a front page story in the Chicago Tribune indicating that the gun bill had fallen a few votes short, and that state senator and congressional candidate Obama ‘had decided to remain on vacation’ in Hawaii,’’ Obama wrote. ‘‘My campaign manager called, mentioning the potential ad the congressman might be running soon — palm trees, a man in a beach chair and straw hat sipping a mai tai, a slack key guitar being strummed softly in the background, the voice-over explaining, ‘While Chicago suffered the highest murder rate in its history, Barack Obama...’
‘‘I stopped him there, having gotten the idea,’’ Obama continued. ‘‘And so, less than halfway into the campaign, I knew in my bones that I was going to lose.’’
It would be his only loss. Obama went on to win the U.S. Senate race in 2004 and then the presidency just four years later. He brought Rush along on Air Force One on Friday when he flew home.
Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press news researcher Monika Mathur and AP writers John O'Connor in Springfield, Ill., and Calvin Woodward and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.
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