Peter Hitchens goes to Chicago to report on Obama for the Daily Mail: "The Black Kennedy: But does anyone know the real Barack Obama?"
The insider recalled: "I thought he was a very talented young man. He was smart, he was willing, he was principled and he worked hard.
"He went to Springfield [the Illinois state capital] and did not become part of the more tawdry aspects of the culture down there - alcohol and women.
But Obama quickly got another reputation. "He was always in the bathroom for the really tough votes. It was not courageous."
The source explained this simply. Barack Obama knew even then that he could one day live in the White House.
"I think he understood long ago that the future was limitless for him. He made decisions in his very early political life that would enable him to be a candidate who would have very broad appeal."
These not-very-helpful remarks come from a black member of Obama's own party. What about his opponents?
One who remembers him well is Illinois State Senator Bill Brady, a white conservative Republican. The two arrived in Springfield together. In the evenings, they would gather for a friendly card game...
Brady also recalled a tendency to have it both ways and to dodge difficult votes that might hurt him later in life: "I saw great ambition in him, no question. He had an agenda."
As for his voting performance, Brady agreed Obama liked sitting on the fence. He is recalled for taking full advantage of an Illinois rule that lets you vote "present" if you don't want to commit yourself.
Brady recalled: "I learned very quickly that the 'present' vote, where the button you press is very appropriately coloured yellow, is the chicken's way out."
But that did not mean Obama lacked convictions. On the contrary, when it suited him he would vote as far Left as he could. "No one was further Left. He would do things that were unrealistic to prove he was Left.
"He was not far Left for political benefit but because he was a true believer.
"But these would be on broad-brush issues - unlike, say, detailed abortion laws - where it was unlikely to be held against him. I have never heard anyone say so little about detailed policies . . . He has moderated his tones, but I don't think he has moderated his beliefs," said Brady. [More]