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The Senator's Humble Beginning

Obama, 43, is following what is known in Hill parlance as "the Hillary model," named for the former first lady whose transition into the Senate is considered a prototype of how celebrity senators should proceed.

"The idea is to capitalize on your celebrity while downplaying it at the same time," Mann says.

Sen. Barack Obama
Sen. Barack Obama
Sen. Barack Obama at work on Capitol Hill. "This is not a glamorous existence. I didn't expect it to be," he says, an attitude that draws approval from his colleagues. (Melina Mara - The Washington Post)

Sen. Clinton, he says, was good at picking speaking and fundraising venues, particularly to the benefit of her home state or caucus. She turned down most national media requests and speeches "where her presence would have elevated her over other elected leaders," Mann says.

"This star power is still going to be there in two months" for Obama, says Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson, a longtime aide to Clinton. In the meantime, Wolfson offers the standard prescription for Senate newcomers, variants of which Obama has heard himself from the dozen colleagues he's sought advice from: tend to his office and state, help colleagues when they ask, and wait on the Sunday shows.

"Offer to do extra work that will benefit the caucus," Daschle says. This will lubricate the relationships that Senate careers are built on. Also, Daschle says, "stay in coach class when you're flying somewhere."

He invokes a favorite line: "Those who travel the high road of humility don't face heavy traffic."

At interview's end, Obama takes another silly question about whether he'd run for president in 2008 (no) or whether he'd accept an offer to be someone's running mate (non-responsive). He is a few minutes late for his next meeting, with Sam Nunn, the former senator from Georgia who is sitting outside his office.

As Obama leads a reporter out, he pauses to chitchat in the waiting room. Obama stands just inches from Nunn, who is seated stone-faced, and whom Obama either doesn't notice or recognize. Finally, Nunn rises, extends his hand and greets Obama, who jumps onto his tippy-toes in surprise.

"Oh, Senator, I apologize," Obama says in deference. "I didn't realize."

No problem, Nunn says. Obama's a busy man. They small-talk into Obama's office.

"You know, so far so good," Obama says, closing the door.

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