With his decision to file the necessary paperwork to launch a presidential campaign exploratory committee, Barack Obama puts an end to speculation about whether he really is interested in being the Democratic nominee in 2008.
The exploratory committee is political performance art. Obama’s not exploring anything. He’s preparing a candidacy that, if all goes as planned, will be launched officially on February 10 in Chicago.
So Obama is running.
Now, the question is: How far will he get?
To a much greater extent than the other announced and prospective candidates for the party’s nomination, that depends on the immediate response of grassroots Democrats to his prospective candidacy.
There is no question that Obama is a political superstar. That allows him to leap over many of the hurdles that are erected by the overseers of the American political process.
Obama does not need to build name recognition, in the sense that more senior figures such as Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack must. Even before he delivered the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in 2004, the Chicagoan was the most prominent state senator in the nation.
After Obama delivered that address to the approval of the delegates–and to generous reviews from most of the political and media class–he secured his US Senate seat and arrived in Washington accompanied by some of the highest expectation ever attached to a new member of Congress.
Predictably, Obama failed to meet those inflated expectations. His relative caution on the big-picture issues of Iraq and domestic civil liberties, combined with some disappointing votes on consumer and economic issues, disappointed many of the serious activists who had been most enthusiastic about his appearance on the national political scene.
As candidates began to position themselves for the 2008 presidential race, however, Obama began to look more and more attractive.
On the list of possible candidates, he was, with New York Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton and Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, one of three genuine first-tier figures–high-profile politicians with what a man who skipped the 2008 race, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, describes as the “star power” to draw media attention merely by opening their mouths, assemble a crowd anywhere in the country and, presumably, to rapidly raise the money needed to remain viable throughout the caucus and primary process that will identify the nominee.