Obama started his meteoric rise in national politics back in 2004 when he won the Senate seat in Illinois. He soundly defeated Alan Keyes, gathering 70% of the vote. But he wasn't supposed to run against Keyes. He was supposed to run against Jack Ryan (no, not the Tom Clancy character).
Ryan was a rising star in Republican politics. He was a former Goldman guy who left the firm (with hundreds of millions of dollars) after it went public and started teaching inner city schools in Chicago. With this stellar resume, he not only won the Illinois republican nomination for Senate, but was perhaps a rising star in the party. Don't believe me? Here's the glowing column George Will wrote about him in 2003.
Anyway, the reason you probably don't remember Jack Ryan is because in addition to a great resume, he also had some serious skeletons in his closet. Specifically he had an ex-wife who alleged in court documents during their divorce proceeding that he had taken her to sex clubs for the purpose of having public sex. The allegations were made public during his Senate campaign and proved to be too much. Only months before the election, Ryan was forced to withdraw his nomination and Keyes substituted in his place. (BTW, Obama during the campaign called for the divorce record to remain sealed.)
Oh yeah, the ex-wife who made these allegations? That would be actress Jeri Ryan, star of Star Trek: Voyager, among other things.
Anyway, who knows what would have happened had Jack Ryan's divorce proceedings remained sealed. Barack could have beat him in the general election - Illinois, despite being the land of Lincoln, is pretty a strong blue state. But who knows, given his background and available cash, maybe Ryan would have won? He certainly would have received more than the paltry 27% of the vote Keyes won.
But none of this matters now. Obama won and is now poised to be the next President. I just think he should think about giving Seven of Nine a shoult out in his acceptance speech.