- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, is rapidly building a presidential campaign organization using students, the Internet, grass-roots organizers and the support from up-and-coming young politicians to do battle against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s cadre of established campaign operatives and long-time party bigwigs.

Generating new Democrats and tapping newly elected leaders not tied to former President Bill Clinton is the best way for Mr. Obama to run competitively against Mrs. Clinton in the early going, say Mr. Obama’s backers, though they say at some point his successes will earn him the broader support he will need to face the front-runner.

“He is building a strong organization in Iowa and New Hampshire, and as his momentum builds in those states, you will see more elected officials come along,” said Rep. Artur Davis, Alabama Democrat and one of the young politicians who has endorsed Mr. Obama, as have freshman Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, and Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat.

Mr. Davis predicted that by summer’s end Mr. Obama, will be tied in national polls with Mrs. Clinton — the New York Democrat and former first lady who is currently leading polls among Democratic presidential contenders — and tied or ahead of her in either Iowa or New Hampshire.

Mr. Davis said that will begin to eat away at Mrs. Clinton’s biggest advantage — the elected lawmakers and union officials who make up the so-called “super delegates” who wield important clout in the Democrats’ nomination process.

“A lot of super delegates want to be with the winner,” said Mr. Davis, predicting that Mr. Obama’s poll numbers would improve “in direct proportion as people get to know who he is. I mean his numbers move as soon as people get up to hear him speak and speak to him.”

Mr. Obama has already won the support of some establishment Democrats, including former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and garnered the backing of two key figures in the key early caucus state of Iowa, Attorney General Tom Miller and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald.

His next test will be to prove he can raise the money necessary to go up against Mrs. Clinton when first-quarter numbers are submitted this month.

“If he reaches the $10 million threshold, that shows people that he is a serious candidate, and I think he will be at $10 million plus,” said political strategist Morris Reid, a former Clinton administration adviser and managing director of Westin Rinehart, a Washington-based communications firm.

Mr. Obama’s campaign said he will surpass that.

“Published reports have us at $8-10 million, but we feel good about it being more,” an Obama campaign official said. The campaign has not yet released the official tally of their fundraising, which must be completed by April 15.

Several Democratic strategists said Mr. Obama should be heartened by some of the crowds in his first three weeks on the campaign trail: 20,000 in Austin, Texas; 8,000 in Oklahoma; and 5,000 in Iowa.

But Mr. Reid said Mr. Obama cannot become the Howard Dean of 2008, able to mobilize and generate excitement from young Americans but unable to translate them into votes, saying he needs to be more like John F. Kennedy in 1960, who was able to create a new base of young voters that went on to change American politics.

Mr. Obama has characterized his campaign as the “Joshua generation” — the generation of Americans who grew up after the 1960s civil rights movement and benefit from the work of the “Moses generation” of leaders who participated in it.

He said the movement must now shift to economics and political empowerment, an ideology that is robust among young American minorities. Those younger supporters have become the backbone of Mr. Obama’s political organization.

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