Thu, Jan 18, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Obama forms committee to explore presidential bid

RAPID RISE The politician has gone from being a law professor to serving as the only black in the US Senate in a remarkable climb of less than 10 years

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

US Senator Barack Obama took his first step into the Democratic presidential race on Tuesday by opening an exploratory committee to raise money and begin building a campaign designed "to change our politics." He said he would make a formal declaration on 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 sent by e-mail 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 was not planning to make other statements on Tuesday. Instead, he was making a series of telephone calls to key Democratic leaders in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states with early contests on the party's nominating calendar next year.

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 former senator John Edwards of North Carolina and Tom Vilsack, who stepped down this month as governor of Iowa.

Senator Hillary Clinton of New York is expected to join the Democratic field soon and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said he would make his decision known by the end of the month. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts also is weighing another run.

By now, Obama's rapid rise from law professor to state senator to US senator in less than a decade is well known. He is the only black serving in the US Senate and could be the only black presidential candidate this year.

But the next phase of his political development presents an even more intriguing story line -- as well as inviting closer scrutiny -- as he discovers whether it is a blessing or 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 on Tuesday, Obama presented himself as a fresh face -- and voice -- for Democrats. The message was crafted in blue-sky optimism, but did not delve into specific details for the challenges facing all candidates in next year's presidential campaign. Aides said the announcement speech next month would outline more specifics.

"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."

Even before Obama opened an exploratory committee, his flirtations with a presidential bid changed the contours of next year's race. Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin were among those to fold their cards, fearful that what had been seen as a wide-open fight for the nomination suddenly seemed like nothing of the kind.

But for all of his anointment as a beacon of hope for Democrats, it remains an open question whether he can turn a boomlet into a movement.

Privately, even longtime friends wonder if he can meet such lofty expectations, which have elevated him beyond a politician's normal realm, thanks to his celebrity, ambition and biography.

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