WASHINGTON – Feeling a wind at his back, freshman Sen. Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he is taking the step political pundits have been predicting for months and filing papers for a presidential exploratory committee.
The Illinois Democrat sent a letter and posted a video on his Web site notifying supporters of his plans to join the 2008 White House race. He said he would announce updates to his plan in his home state on Feb. 10.
Obama, who if elected would become the first black president in the United States, said he never expected a year ago that he would be in the position he is now. But after being on the road promoting his book and campaigning on behalf of other Democrats in the run-up to the Nov. 7 election last year, he was "struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics."
Like others before him, Obama stressed that he wanted to change the tone of debate in Washington.
"It's not the magnitude of our problems that concerns me the most. It's the smallness of our politics. America's faced big problems before. But today, our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common sense way. Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that's what we have to change first," he said.
Obama joins a growing list of Democratic contenders who have already filed their paperwork. Included on that list are 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
So far, the man with two years of Senate experience has jumped over all of them in public opinion polls and landed right up at the top of popularity surveys alongside New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
The most inexperienced candidate in the mix, Obama is trying to turn that potential disadvantage into an asset, emphasizing his fresh face, young family and father's immigrant background. That angle has worked well in the press with coverage reaching beyond the politics pages and all the way to dishy magazines like People, which last week featured a photo of the shirtless and fit senator playing in the Caribbean's waves.
"He has an amazing ability to cut across various divides, possibly because of his upbringing as the son of a black African and a white woman from Kansas. I think he speaks to today's youth and I think he will create a lot of excitement among young people," said Newsweek columnist and FOX News contributor Eleanor Clift.
Still, Obama outlined serious issues in his letter, saying while considering his future he will discuss issues like wages, health care costs, energy, the environment and the war in Iraq.
"Many of you have shared with me your stories about skyrocketing health care bills, the pensions you've lost and your struggles to pay for college for your kids. Our continued dependence on oil has put our security and our very planet at risk. And we're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should have never been waged," he said.
Senior Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who launched the "Draft Obama" campaign, said the candidate offers the "promise of reconciliation and a feeling of hope that America desperately needs."
"This is an opportunity for a new generation of leaders to step forward to remake America, combining the great traditions and values we share with a bold, hopeful vision of tomorrow," Durbin said in a written statement.