WASHINGTON – The following is a new feature on FOXNews.com's political unit offering readers updates and the lowdown on newsmakers looking at their 2008 presidential prospects.
— Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on Saturday officially launched his White House campaign from the steps of the Old Capitol building in Springfield, Ill., site of Abraham Lincoln's famous "House Divided" speech. True to his stated goal of running on a message of hope, Obama's speech was short on policy details and long on soaring rhetoric. He turned his relative lack of experience into a strength and told the crowd of 15,000 that he may not have been in Washington, D.C., long, but had been there long enough to know that Washington needs to change. Later, Obama signaled how he will deflect the experience question, telling reporters that he was right to oppose the war in Iraq in 2002 and that his early opposition is emblematic of the kind of judgment he'll bring to the White House. The assertion that Obama's more experienced rivals exhibited unsound judgment by voting to authorize the war was left unsaid.
— Obama went on to hold student rallies in Ames, Iowa, and a smaller house party in Iowa Falls, where he still pulled in standing room only crowds. At a press conference, Obama was asked about Australian Prime Minister John Howard's comments that Obama is wrong on Iraq and that Al Qaeda should be praying for an Obama victory in 2008. Calling an early attack by one of President Bush's allies "flattering," Obama said, "We have close to 140,000 troops on the ground now. And my understanding is that Mr. Howard has deployed 1,400. So if he's ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest, he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them up to Iraq. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric."
— While in Iowa, Obama picked up early endorsements from two state executives, Attorney General Tom Miller and state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald. But back in Chicago on Sunday, the freshman Democratic senator was greeted with some Iraq protesters. At a rally at the University of Illinois-Chicago, one group interrupted his remarks and clumsily unfurled a banner reading "Obama Stand Up Cut the Funding." Obama urged the protesters to "relax" and said they were all on the same side. He promised to address their concern later in his remarks but after they began shouting again just minutes later, Obama held his microphone by his side and the protesters were escorted out. They never got to hear the senator thank them for their passionate concern.
— At the end of the event-packed weekend, Obama was the guest of honor at a Chicago fundraiser with about 1,000 people. "It is pretty rare where you get those moments where you can put your shoulder against the wheel and move history. And this is one of those moments," he told supporters. "I need your money, I need your time, I need your energy." No estimate has been offered yet on how much money was raised. Obama was on to New Hampshire to speak in Nashua and Durham on Monday.
— By virtue of her status as frontrunner, the Obama campaign can't ignore chief rival Hillary Clinton. Trying to tweak the New York senator's now-famous line, "I'm in it to win," Obama got the crowd to raise a chorus of it before telling them: "I don't just want to win. I want to transform this country." He also had tough words for Clinton in an interview with The Associated Press, acknowledging her opposition to the war in Iraq, but saying, "I am not clear on how she would proceed at this point to wind down the war in a specific way." Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson shot back that Clinton has been a "forceful critic" of the war and of Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq.
— Meanwhile, Clinton kicked off her first tour of New Hampshire in a decade with a town hall meeting in north country. In Berlin, she was greeted with what the campaign called "record crowds" — really about 500 people — and some tough questions from critics of her vote on the Iraq war. One voter asked her why she wouldn't call that vote a mistake. Clinton said she would not have started the war had she been president and that the vote was not for war, but rather to give the president a bargaining chip with the United Nations. She went on to blame Bush for misleading Congress.
— Clinton emphasized her electability, and the fear she says she inspires in Republicans, telling a small group of Democrats at a private party in Nashua: "I know what (Newt) Gingrich tells people privately. I know what (Tom) DeLay tells people privately. I know what Karl Rove tells people privately. I'm the one person they are most afraid of. Bill and I have beaten them before and we will again."
— On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani delivered remarks to the California GOP at their state convention. The former New York City mayor made no news, but looked and sounded more presidential as he begins to ramp up his White House bid. Giuliani received a warm reception from Republicans, but in one moment of drama, the leader of the conservative California Republican Assembly complained that Giuliani failed to deliver on a promise to meet his group on Saturday, accusing Giuliani of futilely trying to avoid questions about his less-than-conservative views on abortion and gay rights.
— Elsewhere, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback addressed the Michigan Republican convention on Saturday, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee toured New Hampshire for the first time as a presidential candidate.