Former Outsider Navigated a Path to the Marquee

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The Democratic National Convention is akin to a longstanding family reunion. And eight years ago, Barack Obama was not on the guest list.

He was drained of money and confidence, fresh from a punishing defeat in a Congressional primary race here. Even the Illinois delegation did not have room at the party’s gathering in Los Angeles for Mr. Obama, then a 39-year-old lawyer, who had annoyed some state Democrats for not waiting his turn to seek a higher office.

Never mind all that. Mr. Obama bought a plane ticket and headed west anyway.

He persuaded a clerk at the car rental agency to overlook the unpaid balance on his credit card, and he made his way to the festivities. He was not a delegate — not even close to being a superdelegate — and without a floor credential he had all the sway of the junior state senator that he was.

“I have no memory of him there,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, recalled in an interview the other day. “It was a disastrous trip for him.”

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