Obama steps into U.S. presidential race

Posted in United States | 17-Jan-07 | Author: Jeff Zeleny| Source: International Herald Tribune

Barack Obama, 45, is the only African-American in the U.S. Senate.

Exploratory committee is formed to raise money for race

WASHINGTON: Senator Barack Obama on Tuesday took his first step into the Democratic presidential race by opening an exploratory committee to raise money and begin building a campaign "to change our politics." He said he would make a formal declaration Feb. 10 in Illinois.

"Running for the presidency is a profound decision, a decision no one should make on the basis of media hype or personal ambition alone," Obama said in a video address e-mailed to his supporters. "So before I committed myself and my family to this race, I wanted to be sure that this was right for us and, more importantly, right for the country."

Obama disclosed his decision on his Web site and said he was not planning to make other statements Tuesday. Instead, he made a series of telephone calls to top Democratic leaders in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states with early contests on the party's 2008 nominating calendar. He intends to open his presidential campaign headquarters in Chicago.

Obama, 45, was elected to the Senate two years ago. He becomes the fifth Democrat to enter the race, joining Senators Joseph Biden of Delaware and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut as well as a former senator, John Edwards of North Carolina, and Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is expected to join the Democratic field soon and Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, said he would announce his decision by the end of the month. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is also considering another run.

Obama rose from law professor to state senator to U.S. senator in less than a decade. He is the only African-American in the U.S. Senate and could be the only black presidential candidate this year.

But the next phase of his political development presents an even more intriguing storyline as he discovers whether it is a blessing or a curse to embark on a presidential race carrying the expectations of a country that is searching for something new and different.

In his video statement, Obama presented himself as a fresh face, and voice, for Democrats. The message was optimistic but did not delve into specifics.

Aides said his announcement next month would outline more details.

"For the next several weeks," Obama said in the video, "I am going to talk with people from around the country, listening and learning more about the challenges we face as a nation, the opportunities that lie before us, and the role that a presidential campaign might play in bringing our country together."

Despite his being anointed as a beacon of hope for Democrats, it remains an open question whether Obama can turn a boomlet into a movement. Privately, even longtime friends wonder if he can meet lofty expectations.

As he made his decision, he convened a series of private meetings with longtime advisers and friends, ensuring that he had their support before entering the toughest political race of his life.

After one of the meetings, Abner Mikva, a White House chief counsel in the Clinton administration and a longtime friend, was asked to assess the senator's biggest challenge in a presidential race. He did not hesitate.

"First off, there is Hillary Rodham Clinton," Mikva said in an interview last month. "And that's not going to be easy to handle."

In the field of Democratic hopefuls, Obama stands apart from Clinton and some other candidates because of his unwavering opposition to the Iraq war.

But he has declined to say whether he supports the current liberal position of blocking funding for sending more troops to Iraq.

In his statement, however, he mentioned Iraq only to say, "We're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should have never been waged."