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Obama considering run for president

William Neikirk
Chicago Tribune

In a decided and unequivocal shift, Sen. Barack Obama said Sunday he is seriously considering a run for the White House in 2008, affirming the stunningly rapid trajectory of a political career that saw him in the Illinois legislature just two years ago.

WASHINGTON--In a decided and unequivocal shift, Sen. Barack Obama said Sunday he is seriously considering a run for the White House in 2008, affirming the stunningly rapid trajectory of a political career that saw him in the Illinois legislature just two years ago.

In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," the same program where he categorically ruled out a run just last January, Obama went further than ever before in discussing his Oval Office ambitions, and left clear the impression that he could well run, a move that would fundamentally reshape the contest for the Democratic nomination.

During the interview, host Tim Russert put Obama through a series of questions about Iraq, North Korea and Darfur and about the tone of politics in this country - all questions that would typically be put to a prospective presidential candidate. Obama held forth on those issues and his views on the presidency, at once addressing issues about his relative inexperience but also about how he perceived the role of the world's most powerful office.

The "Meet the Press" appearance capped a week-long span of intensive publicity, ostensibly about the publication of his second book, "The Audacity of Hope," but what in fact seemed more like a long run-up to articulate his presidential ambitions, winning him publicity that would cost others millions of dollars to generate.

All week long during a whirlwind book tour, the Illinois Democrat had dropped hints about a possible 2008 presidential bid, but on Sunday he made it clear that he has been thinking about it for months as more people have encouraged him to run.

His sudden openness to running represented a sharp reversal of his old political calculation. On the same program last January, he had flatly rejected a presidential bid and reaffirmed he would serve out a full six-year term as senator, which would end in 2010.

But Obama's political stock has been on a sharp climb since he gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and he has been turned into one of the party's biggest fundraisers, most popular speakers and among the few with true star power. He acknowledged that the door had opened "a bit" to an actual run for the nation's highest office.

Russert replayed Obama's January statement on "Meet the Press" when he said "I will not" seek the presidency or vice presidency in 2008 and would serve out his full six years.

"You will not?" Russert asked on Sunday.

"That's how I was thinking at that time, and I don't want to be coy about this," Obama responded.

"Given the responses I've been getting over the last several months, I have thought about the possibility, but I have not thought about it with the seriousness and depth that I think is required," Obama said. After the Nov. 7 election, he said, "I will sit down and consider it."

His statements touched off even more speculation that the Democratic contest could feature both Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, considered the leading candidate at the moment.

He was not clear when he would make the decision, but it is likely that it would have to come late this year or early next year. Obama is wrestling with whether his time is now or in the future. Increasingly, many friends, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have counseled him that he should not pass up the opportunity when he enjoys such a high and positive national political profile.

Pollster Andrew Kohut of Pew Research Center said the Illinois senator would be an "exciting and very attractive candidate" if he decides to run. He said Obama is a fresh face on the national political stage, although he remains an "untested commodity. His biggest liability is a lack of experience." Questions also could likely be raised about his electability because of his race, Kohut added.

Kohut compared Obama with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who enjoyed high popularity in 1996 but decided against running. The difference, however, was that Powell had a long record of distinguished service and "he was not an unknown commodity."

Democratic political consultant Mark Mellman said that with Obama in the race, "It would make it even more interesting and exciting than it was going to be. ... There are a lot of people in a good position to win. The most important thing is that this is a nomination worth having."

Analysts in recent days have cited the grueling nature of the campaign and its possible effect on his family. They have said the senator does not have the kind of political and foreign-policy seasoning that many of the other candidates have, though Obama is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Obama said that President Bush gave him good advice when he urged the senator to "watch yourself" as "everybody will be waiting for you to slip" - a conversation described in his book.

The senator added, "I think that it is important not to buy into your own hype or your press clippings, and one of the advantages I have, I think, is that I've got a wife who knocks me down a peg anytime I start thinking that what they're writing about me is true."

But he also pointedly challenged the president in his book, saying that Bush had developed an almost "messianic certainty" about his point of view.

When asked if he was ready to be president, Obama said, "Well, I'm not sure anybody is ready to be president before they're president. You know, ultimately, I trust the judgment of the American people that in any election they sort it through. We have a long and rigorous process, and, you know, should I decide to run, if I ever did decide to run, I'm confident that I'd be run through the paces pretty good, including on `Meet the Press.'"

Illinois politicians, led by Durbin, praised the senator's willingness to consider a run for the presidency. Durbin, who has spent the better part of a year telling audiences why he believes Obama would make a good president, said that he was thrilled to hear Obama's remarks.

"I am glad he's made this public statement, as an opportunity like this comes around once in a political lifetime," Durbin said.

Believing 2008 is the right time for Obama, Durbin said he's had many friends put off a run, planning to run the next time. "And the next time never comes," he said.

Asked if he thought Illinois voters would be upset at Obama for not completing his Senate term, Durbin said he did not.

"This is such a high honor to be considered for the highest office in the land, and I think Illinois voters will support him if he chooses to run," he said.

State Comptroller Dan Hynes, who ran against Obama in the 2004 Democratic senatorial primary, said he was "pleasantly surprised" by the senator's statement and added, "I think it is the right time."

"I think that with the fever pitch that he's in, he has no choice but to consider it," Hynes said.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he will support Obama if he runs for president but cautioned that a switch from the legislative branch to the executive is not one that should be taken lightly.

"He has to make that decision for himself and I would imagine he'll spend a lot of time consulting with his wife, with his family before making a decision like that. But if he were to do something like that I'd be eager to help him," Blagojevich said.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., added his support, saying that "the first rule of politics is to keep your options open. Our senator has a lot to bring to the public debate and obviously it'll be a tremendous amount of excitement if he does decide to run."

By leaving the door open Sunday, Jackson said, Obama infused "some energy into the process."

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