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Obama admits he's thinking '08

The Illinois senator had vowed to serve his full term, but the support he sees encourages him to run for president.

October 23, 2006|Chuck Neubauer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said Sunday that he was considering a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, backing away from previous pledges to serve out his full six-year Senate term.

Obama, 45, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would not make any decision before the Nov. 7 midterm election.

"I am still at the point where I have not made a decision to -- to pursue higher office," he said, "but it is true that I have thought about it over the last several months."

In 2004, as a candidate for the Senate, Obama entered the national spotlight as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. He won the Senate seat that November with 70% of the vote.

Twice before on "Meet the Press" -- soon after that election and again this past January -- Obama stated flatly that he would serve his full Senate term. On Sunday, he attributed his possible change of heart to "the responses that I've been getting over the last several months" while campaigning for Democratic candidates across the country.

"He is the most in-demand speaker in the Democratic Party," said David Axelrod, a Chicago-based media consultant who advised Obama's Senate campaign. "He gets 300 invitations a week."

Time magazine recently featured a photo of Obama on its cover with the headline "Why Barack Obama could be the next president." The senator is currently promoting his new book, "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream."

He told NBC that although the door to a potential candidacy had opened "a bit," he had not yet thought about a White House bid "with the seriousness and depth that I think is required."

"My main focus right now is in '06 and making sure that we retake the Congress," he said.

"After Nov. 7, I'll sit down and consider -- and if, at some point, I change my mind, I will make a public announcement and everybody will be able to go at me."

Asked about his lack of executive experience -- his only previous elective office was state senator in Illinois -- 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."

According to Axelrod, Obama has "concluded that he should at least look at this.... It is certainly something that is on his radar screen."

But he has not taken any steps to hire staff or begin raising money for a national campaign, Axelrod said. "There is no active campaign going on."

A second Democratic strategist, who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons, said it "may be difficult" for Obama to translate his popularity into a White House run after only two years in the Senate.

"My guess is that he will consider [2008] too early," the strategist said.

"He has a lot more presidential campaigns in him."

Still, said Joe Trippi, a veteran Democratic consultant who managed Howard Dean's 2004 campaign, "the reception he is getting and the energy he is creating has got to encourage him to go."

Last month Obama was the main speaker at Sen. Tom Harkin's Iowa steak fry, an annual political event that attracts thousands of Democrats in a state that plays a key role in presidential politics.

"He took it by storm, like a rock star hit the place," said Trippi, who has been working in campaigns in Iowa since 1979. "You felt it. It was not just his speech. It was the way the crowd surged around him.... You couldn't move if he was in the area."

Trippi said that Obama "certainly has the skill, the talent and the star quality" -- and if he decides to run, "it changes the whole dynamic of the race."

The current crop of potential contenders for the Democratic nomination include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who is widely considered the front-runner at this point; the 2004 nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, and his running mate, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina; Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Evan Bayh of Indiana; and Govs. Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

Appearing Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Kerry was asked about Obama's possible candidacy.

"If he thinks he's ready to run for president and wants to run ... and I've made a decision to run, then we'll go out and have a great contest," Kerry said.

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chuck.neubauer@latimes.com

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