- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama yesterday formed a presidential exploratory committee, citing a fundamental desire to change the “bitter and partisan” nature of politics and positioning himself as an anti-war candidate, drawing implicit contrasts with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Illinois Democrat, 45, made the announcement in a uniquely 21st-century manner — telling voters in a Web video that he needs their help to “change our politics and come together around our common interests and concerns as Americans.”

“I certainly didn’t expect to find myself in this position a year ago,” said Mr. Obama, two years into his first term in the U.S. Senate. “But as I’ve spoken to many of you in my travels across the states these past months … I’ve been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics.”

In a theme sure to be repeated in the coming weeks as voters and pundits compare Mr. Obama to Mrs. Clinton, the senator reminded supporters of his early opposition to the Iraq war, calling it a “tragic and costly war that should never have been waged.”

Mrs. Clinton, the former first lady and now a New York senator, had long been seen as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. But press and voter attention to Mr. Obama, coupled with an electorate increasingly frustrated by the war, have contributed to Mrs. Clinton’s slipping in some recent polls.

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Mr. Obama were tied for first place in a December Iowa presidential poll that left Mrs. Clinton in fourth place in the state that holds the nation’s first caucus vote on Jan. 14, 2008.

In New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary election, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are virtually tied for the lead. Mr. Edwards, the 2004 vice-presidential nominee, came in third place in that poll.

But Mrs. Clinton, just elected by an overwhelming margin to a second Senate term by New York voters, still holds a significant lead over her potential opponents in national polls conducted through January.

In the three-minute Web video found at www.barackobama.com and touted in an e-mail titled “My plans for 2008,” the senator says he will announce his final decision Feb. 10.

In the meantime, Mr. Obama will attempt to raise the millions necessary for a presidential bid. Reported to be a secret upcoming guest on the Oprah Winfrey show to discuss his candidacy, he is expected to travel to Iowa this weekend.

“For the next several weeks, 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,” said Mr. Obama, who served in the Illinois Senate from 1996 to 2005.

The early polls suggest that Mr. Obama, who is black, has significant momentum one year before the country holds its nominating contests. A CBS News poll conducted the first week of January showed Mr. Obama’s popularity growing, although his name recognition is still lacking nationally, especially compared with Mrs. Clinton’s.

In December, 62 percent of voters in a CNN poll said America is “ready” for a black president.

Mrs. Clinton — with a deep fundraising base, an ex-president husband and near-universal name recognition — is widely expected to announce her presidential ambitions this week, perhaps as early as today.

Although Mrs. Clinton is likely to be Mr. Obama’s most formidable opponent, the Democratic field is crowded.

Other announced Democratic candidates include Mr. Edwards, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut.

Mr. Dodd said the field is “getting crowded” but dismissed the common cliche that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are “sucking the oxygen” from the field, saying: “There’s a lot of oxygen.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware has said he will form a presidential exploratory committee this month. Also thought to be interested are Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 Democratic nominee; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who also ran in 2004.

The Iraq war is a defining issue for Democratic hopefuls, and Mr. Obama is one of the few in the crowd who does not have to defend a vote to go to war. Unlike Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards, who voted to give the president authority for the war in October 2002, Mr. Obama was not in the Senate.

In just a few years, Mr. Obama quickly rose from a local politician with a self-described “funny name” to a man who thinks he can be president.

In a biographical video on his newly designed Web site, the best-selling author and lawyer highlights some of his career and personal achievements and replays excerpts from his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention that made him a political star.

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