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Barack Obama takes first step to White House

By Rediff International Affairs Bureau
January 17, 2007 13:53 IST
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He has spent only two years in national politics, but in a war-weary nation that could actually work in favour of United States Senator Barack Obama who, on Tuesday, made clear his intention to enter the Democratic Presidential race.

The actual war is far away. The Presidential election is slated for November 2008. Even the preparatory battle, the Democratic primaries, are 13 months away; Obama, while setting up a Presidential Exploratory Committee on Tuesday, said he would formally announce his intention to run for the US presidency -- the most powerful job on the planet -- on February 10.

The 45-year-old Obama's announcement ends weeks, even months, of speculation if the African-American Senator would actually take the plunge. His announcement also sent ripples of excitement within the Democratic Party, which is not short of Presidential hopefuls, given that the Republicans will be going into the election with their back to the wall over the Iraq war which has also been steadily sapping President George Bush's ratings.

Apart from Senator Joseph R Biden Jr of Delaware and Christopher J Dodd of Connecticut, other Democrats who are expected to run are former Senator John Edwards, former governor Tom Vilsack and Representative Dennis J Kucinich.

There are others lining up as well, notably Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, potentially Obama's biggest rival for occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is likely that Senator John Kerry, the party's nominee in 2004, will run this time round too.

There is no doubt that the 2008 vote will be fought on the course of the War on Terror, including the war in Iraq. Interestingly, Obama alone among the Democratic hopefuls has no record on the issue. When the US Senate voted whether or not to go to war in Iraq, he was a member of the Illinois legislature, where, of course, he stridently opposed the war.

This lack of record -- pointing to his lack of experience in national politics -- could go either way. The voters may plumb for someone who they perceive to be untainted by the ugly battles in Washington, DC, or they could back someone who has a longer record on issues that matter.

Obama's supporters don't believe his lack of experience would affect his chances. 'One thing I am convinced of, is that people want something new,' Obama said on Tuesday.

If he wins the final race, Obama will be the first African-American to occupy White House. He is currently the only one in the US Senate, and is only the third Senator since the American Civil War of 1861-1865.

Obama's meteoric rise -- in less than 10 years he rose from being a law professor to Illinois state senator to US Senator -- is already the stuff of media legend if not popular perception. On the stump he is said to be spectacular. In his video address, which he put up on his web site on Tuesday, Obama says, 'Running for the presidency is a profound decision, a decision no one should make on the basis of media hype or personal ambition alone.'

As the sole superpower currently in the throes of an unpopular war slowly goes into election mode, we will know if his star will continue to burn bright.

Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

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