WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama will formally
launch his presidential campaign in Springfield
on Feb. 10 - two days before Abraham Lincoln's
Obama, who just three years ago was serving
in the Illinois Senate, took the first formal
step Tuesday toward a presidential bid eagerly
anticipated by some Democrats, creating a
presidential exploratory committee. The move
allows him to start raising money and begin
building a campaign.
An Obama aide said the formal announcement is
planned for the state capital, where Lincoln
lived before becoming the nation's 16th
president. No specific site was announced.
Springfield, with its Lincoln connections,
would provide a symbolic backdrop for Obama, a
Chicago Democrat who portrays himself as a
"It's not the magnitude of our problems that
concerns me the most. It's the smallness of our
politics," Obama said in a videotaped
announcement e-mailed to his supporters Tuesday.
"America's faced big problems before. But
today our leaders in Washington seem incapable
of working together in a practical, common-sense
"We have to change our politics and come
together around our common interests and
concerns as Americans," Obama said, announcing
his exploratory committee on his Web site,
Announcing in Springfield would highlight the
city's historical connections to Lincoln, who
led the nation through the Civil War and the
struggle to end slavery.
If successful, Obama would become the
nation's first black president.
Obama, 45, has served just two years in the
U.S. Senate, making him less experienced than
many other presidential contenders, but that may
not be a liability among voters frustrated by
partisanship in Washington.
The senior senator from Illinois, Democrat
Dick Durbin, welcomed Obama's decision, while
noting "it's still a long journey to the White
"Barack Obama brings to this race a promise
of reconciliation and a feeling of hope that
America desperately needs," Durbin said.
Obama rose to political stardom after his
speech at the Democratic National Convention in
2004. After that, his decade-old autobiography,
"Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and
Inheritance," became a best-seller.
His second book, "The Audacity of Hope:
Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," was
released last fall and helped generate even more
attention as he raised money for Democratic
candidates. Oprah Winfrey has endorsed him.
He's considered a top contender for the
Democratic nomination, along with Sen. Hillary
Rodham Clinton of New York, who is expected to
make her announcement soon.
Other Democrats who have announced their
intentions to run include 2004 vice presidential
nominee John Edwards, former Iowa Gov. Tom
Vilsack, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Ohio
Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Obama's decision may underline Iraq as the
dominant issue in the 2008 campaign. Obama can
appeal to the party's strong anti-war sentiment
by contrasting his opposition to the conflict
with the votes cast by Clinton and Edwards
authorizing the 2003 invasion.
"He is the current candidate to be in the top
billing as the anti-Hillary," said Larry Sabato,
a political scientist at the University of
Virginia. "He scrambles the field for Hillary in
that he has the charisma and command of the
national media to really challenge her."
Obama appears likely to start out well behind
Clinton, and possibly Edwards, in fundraising
and organizing. Both factors are certain to be
important when voters start selecting the
nominees early next year in a tightly compressed
set of caucuses and primary elections.
"There is going to be a premium placed on who
can raise a lot of money before the first
primaries and caucuses begin," said Alan
Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory
University. "That's where we know Hillary
Clinton is going to have plenty of money. The
question is, who else is going to have the money
if she falters?"
Unlike Jesse Jackson, whose candidacies in
1984 and 1988 were mainly symbolic, Obama
launches his exploration as a serious and
plausible effort to elect a black candidate to
That could complicate Clinton's plans because
she was assumed to have a strong appeal to black
voters, who were among the strongest supporters
of her husband, Bill Clinton, when he was
president. Those voters also constitute perhaps
the most loyal element in the Democratic Party's
If Obama becomes a declared candidate and
survives the early tests of the Iowa and Nevada
caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, he may
be in a position to challenge Clinton in the
South Carolina primary, where a large black vote
could be decisive.
"The idea of an African-American candidate is
something that's appealing to a lot of people -
a lot of Democrats certainly," said Abramowitz.
"When he gets into a general election, are there
some voters out there who would be reluctant to
vote for a candidate just because he's
African-American? Yeah, there probably are still
some. ... Most of those people wouldn't vote for
any Democrat, so I don't see it as an enormous
Obama's freshness on the national scene has
its pluses and minuses, Sabato noted.
"The negative is that he may not be able to
convince people that he has the experience to be
president. The positive is that he has very
little record to attack," Sabato said.
In New Hampshire, state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro,
a prominent Democratic activist, said he doubted
that Obama would be handicapped either by money
problems or by difficulties in organizing for
the nation's first primary.
"He may surprise people in that he may
attract a new group of younger people into this
process," said D'Allesandro. "As far as raising
the money is concerned, if people think you're
going to win, they're going to give you money."
Obama's revelations about his drug use in
high school and college - contained in his first
book - raise questions about whether his
youthful behavior could come back to haunt him.
Many political experts doubt that his
admissions would prove troublesome in the
"I think the voters don't care very much.
Clinton took a lot of that off of the table,"
said Andrew Smith, an independent pollster at
the University of New Hampshire. "Plus, you have
to remember that now the great bulk of voters
out there are baby boomers - and they were all
doing a lot of that sort of stuff back when they
were in high school, so they can all relate to
Obama was born in Hawaii, where his parents
had met in college. His father was Kenyan, and
his mother was a white American. They divorced
when he was 2. He was raised in Indonesia and
Hawaii. He moved to Chicago in 1985, where he
worked as a community organizer with a
He is a graduate of Columbia University and
Harvard Law School and was the first black
president of the Harvard Law Review. After
Harvard, Obama returned to Chicago to practice
as a civil rights lawyer and to teach
constitutional law at the University of Chicago.
He served in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to
2004, gaining a reputation as a
consensus-builder with liberal stands on the
Joining the U.S. Senate in 2005, he carefully
tended to Illinois issues for the first year and
insisted he had no higher aspirations. But in
the second year, he began building his resume
with several foreign trips as a member of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he's
been out in front of other Democrats as an
outspoken proponent of ethics reform.
His wife, Michelle, also a Harvard Law School
graduate, works as an administrator for the
University of Chicago Hospitals. They have two
children, Malia and Sasha.
Dori Meinert can be reached at 202-737-7686
or firstname.lastname@example.org. Finlays Lewis can
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