CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Barack Obama started early in trying to carve out a reputation as an eager, hard-working Illinois state senator when he was elected in 1996.
Critics say Barack Obama failed to offer bold legislation during his time in the Illinois state Senate.
He once told state Democratic leader Emil Jones -- the man Obama considers his "political godfather" -- to throw him into the fire.
"He said, 'Feel free to give me any tough assignments. You know I like to work hard,' " said Jones, the current state Senate president and a member of the Illinois General Assembly since 1973.
That work, his critics say, resulted in one of the most liberal voting records during his eight years in the Legislature, from pushing for abortion rights to raising taxes.
But former Republican colleague Dan Cronin said the presidential candidate's campaign of bold change doesn't square with his past.
"There were no bold solutions; there were no creative approaches; there were no efforts to stand up to the establishment," said Cronin, a member of the Illinois General Assembly since 1990, and now a member of White House hopeful John McCain's Illinois Leadership Team.
Cronin says he still respects Obama and his political skills.
In response, Obama spokesperson, Tommy Vietor said, "Apparently Senator Obama's leadership on reforming the death penalty, cutting taxes for working families, and fighting for sweeping ethics and lobbying reforms was bold enough for Dan Cronin when he voted for Obama's legislation."
Supporters, meanwhile, said Obama wasn't able to offer any bold legislation because Republicans controlled the Legislature during most of the time he was in office.
And what about criticism that, as a state senator, Obama voted "present" instead of for or against a measure 130 times?
It's an oddity of Illinois politics that presidential rival Hillary Clinton says illustrates Obama's refusal to take responsibility, essentially taking the easy way out on controversial issues.
But Obama's mentor, who says the senator cast thousands of votes, disagrees.
"She's totally wrong on that," Jones said of Clinton.
Chicago political analyst Paul Green says other lawmakers -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- routinely vote "present."
Green said that such a vote is a strategy, a way to force the majority party to negotiate or to protest parts of a bill.
Obama sponsored more than 800 bills. One resulted in highly touted ethics reforms that ban fundraisers at the state Capitol in Springfield and nearly all gifts from lobbyists.
Another of his bills requires police in Illinois to videotape interrogations of suspects.
One thing everyone did seem to agree on: Obama appeared comfortable reaching across party lines to get what he wanted. E-mail to a friend