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Obama Takes First Steps in N.H.

Obama's day in New Hampshire was remarkable as much for the scene and speculation he generated than for anything specific he had to say. Wearing a black jacket, gray slacks and an open-collar white shirt, Obama delivered low-key remarks, speaking personally about his background and the origins of his belief in a more hopeful politics, as well as giving general views on issues such as energy, health care and Iraq.

He promised a new politics, to replace the "24-hour, slash-and-burn, negative-ad bickering, small-minded politics that doesn't move us forward."

Asked what he believes is different about his politics than those of other candidates, he said, "I think what's worked for me has been the capacity to stay true to a set of progressive values but to be eclectic in terms of the tools to achieve those progressive values. To not be orthodox. To be willing to get good ideas from all quarters."

As for the question of his readiness, Obama hinted he would have more to say about that if he enters the race, but he told reporters: "If I decide to run, at the end of the process, people will know me pretty well and they'll have a pretty good sense of whether I'm qualified to run."

The media contingent was estimated by organizers at 125 to 150 people. Obama's news conference attracted the kind of attention normally reserved for a winner of the New Hampshire primary, not a relative novice who has not even declared for president.

His presidential planning has not quite caught up with the hype and speculation that now follows him wherever he goes. Nor does he appear to be as far along as Clinton or a number of other Democrats, who have been tramping through this and other states for more than a year.

Obama has been meeting regularly with a small team of advisers and with his wife, Michelle, since last month's midterm elections. They have been assembling information about the cost of running in 2008, Obama's fundraising potential, overall strategy, the primary and caucus calendar, and the strength of the competition.

They also have been trying to identify potential staff at a time when Clinton and other Democratic candidates are moving to lock up the most experienced fundraisers, strategists, organizers, advance people and communications experts.

Obama's core team of advisers includes Chicago-based media consultant David Axelrod, Senate chief of staff Pete Rouse, communications director Robert Gibbs, strategist David Plouffe and pollster Paul Harstad. He has also recruited Steve Hildebrand, who ran the Iowa caucuses for former vice president Al Gore in 2000.

Family issues remain a potentially significant obstacle to Obama. He arrived in New Hampshire close to midnight Saturday because he was attending a ballet recital for one of his two young daughters, and the demands of a presidential campaign would keep him away from his family for much of the next two years.

Asked whether his wife is enthusiastic or resistant to a presidential campaign, he said he would keep private discussions private, but added, "She is the smartest, toughest, funniest best friend that I could ever hope for, and she's always had my back. Whatever decision we make, we'll make together."

New Hampshire Democrats had much to celebrate with Obama after their most successful election in a century. Last month, voters in the state tossed out two House incumbents, reelected Gov. John Lynch (D) with 74 percent of the vote, gave Democrats a majority on the powerful Executive Council and turned over control of the state legislature to Democrats for the first time since 1874.

But many in the crowds Sunday were there primarily to take the measure of Obama. Jeff Hughes, who came to Portsmouth with his wife, Barbara, best captured the moment as he summed up the opportunity and the risk for Obama as he weighs whether to run.

"Right now it's his opportunity, his time," Hughes said. "We'll see what he does with it."

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